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Groundbreaking set for main building of proposed $80 million Civil War history center


Organizers are preparing for the third and final groundbreaking on the planned N.C. Civil War & Reconstruction History Center on the Fayetteville Arsenal grounds.

The groundbreaking, which will mark the beginning of construction on the main building of the center, is scheduled for 11 a.m. on June 2. The event is expected to be attended by elected officials, educators and members of the center’s board of directors and board of advisors.

Spencer Crew — emeritus director of the National Museum of African American History and Culture, and a member of the history center’s team of scholars — is the scheduled keynote speaker. Crew also served as president of the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center and worked at the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History.

Crew is a key member of the team that’s putting together the history center’s exhibits, according to materials given to reporters during an update on the project earlier in the week.

“He’s a nationally recognized historian who has worked with educational centers, museums throughout the world. We’re very lucky to get him down here for that ground opening,” said Mac Healy, co-chair of the history center foundation along with Mary Lynn Bryan.

“He’s a part of a very, very large team of world-renowned historians who are writing, designing our curriculum for this center,” he said. “This is a state-owned and operated center. It is being located in Fayetteville, North Carolina.”

Tuesday’s update took place at Fayetteville Technical Community College. The update on the center was done by Bryan, Healy, former Fayetteville State University Chancellor James Anderson and Demetrius Haddock, the board chair of the River Jordan Council on African American Heritage in Fayetteville and a K-12 educator for about 24 years.

The facility, which has become a controversial issue in some circles, is envisioned as becoming the state’s premier Civil War center and unlike anything else across the nation. Much of the resistance to the proposed center is because some people think it will become a Confederate Civil War museum – a tribute to the fallen South.

That is not true, supporters say.

The center, the speakers said, is a statewide project.

Organizers have said it would bring 200 jobs and $18 million a year in economic impact to the Fayetteville area.

David Winslow, the senior consultant for the Civil War history center, has projected visitation to the site and the history center at 75,000 to 130,000 people a year.

The center would become the first state museum in the nation to provide an interpretation of the Civil War and Reconstruction era from the perspective of an entire state, according to the Cape Fear complex website.

“The critical issue is this is going to tell the story of everybody in the state of North Carolina during a certain designated period,” Healy said. “We follow the N.C. History Museum and their branches. We have a period we will be focusing on.”

That period, Bryan said, is 1835 to perhaps a little beyond 1900.

“As you know, the last session of the General Assembly we were able to obtain $60 million from the state legislators,” Healy said. “That coupled with the two commitments that we have from the city and county and also numerous enterprises that have stepped up over the last eight to 10 years to help fund this has us in a position where we are ready to move ahead with the construction of the project. We have a groundbreaking set for June 2nd. That will be our final groundbreaking.

“That’s on the main building,” he said. “You may have seen several other groundbreakings. They were for some of the out parcels of that site.”

Healy said organizers are at the point where they are going to go back in the next 30 to 45 days to the city and county and nail down the details of their previous $7.5 million commitments.

“And then we’ll begin to let bids and everything else,” he said. “Bids are a revolving issue by the hour these days with supply chains and costs, so that’s why we’re moving ahead as quickly as we can.”

Bryan said the commitments from the city and country were all based on a bond with those two entities and the state. "We have no reason to think they won't" come through with their financial commitments, Bryan said.

Healy said the planned center was fortunate to have received a $5 million initial grant a number of years ago for planning from the state and “we judiciously worked with their budget office. So where we are now is lining that up. We’re working on some more preliminary process estimates.”

The estimated $80 million facility – originally slated to cost $65 million – is what Healy called a history education center and not a museum. It will not be, he stressed, a collecting museum.

“We will have several artifacts in there,” Healy said, “but only if they continue further telling the story.”

The center, he said, will be an interactive situation – “a touch, feel kind of thing that will draw people from across the country. The content for the museum is being sent out to the schools in North Carolina and also through lesson plans. Fayetteville is going to be headquarters.”

The speakers also said they don’t like the name for the center. They said the name was chosen by the N.C. Civil War & Reconstruction History Center Foundation to refer to the proposed facility and programs that would be located in Arsenal Park.

The name was changed to include the word “Reconstruction.”

Once completed, the facility will be owned and operated by the N.C. Department of Natural and Cultural Resources as part of the N.C. Museum of History.

It will be up to the state to name the facility, Healy said.

“We certainly have no problem with any group approaching us or the state to make its concerns known as to the name,” publicity materials said.

Michael Futch covers Fayetteville and education for CityView TODAY. He can be reached at mfutch@cityviewnc.com. Have a news tip? Email news@CityViewTODAY.com.

Fayetteville, N.C. Civil War & Reconstruction History Center, groundbreaking ceremony, funding, Fayetteville City Council, Cumberland County Board of Commissioners