The controversy surrounding the construction of the Fayetteville Museum of Art on the grounds of Festival Park is heating up, following the delivery of a letter signed by the president of the FMA’s board, Menno Pinnink, to Fayetteville City Manager Dale Iman on Aug. 21.
    The letter accuses the city of a breach of contract in its agreement to deed land in Festival Park to the museum for its new building, and it further requests the city “cease the conduct that breaches the agreement and that the city abide by its obligations under the agreement.”
    At issue is the proposal by freshman councilman, Ted Mohn, to appoint a task force to study the issue of locating the museum in Festival Park. Earlier this month, Mohn brought the issue back before the city council, noting that there were too many unanswered questions concerning the museum’s presence in the park, and whether or not it was a good place to build the $15 million facility.
    Mohn was not on the council in August 2007, when the city council held a special meeting and agreed to donate two acres of land inside the park for the construction of the facility. That arrangement had been made after the museum’s first choice, on the promenade at the park, was taken away by then City Manger Roger Stancil. The building that currently sits in that location, which was designed for commercial/retail space is mostly vacant.
    During its work session on Aug. 4, the council, with the museum’s agreement, elected to appoint a task force comprised of individuals from the arts community and other members of the community to discuss the location of the facility, and the ability of the museum to keep up the facility.
    The museum had initially agreed to take part in the task force and had forwarded the names of its task force members to the city prior to sending the letter to the city. The director of the museum, Tom Grubb, is on vacation and unavailable for comment; however, in an earlier interview with the Fayetteville Observer, Grubb said he thought the task force would be “too confrontational.”
    In the letter the museum argues that the city, “acting by and through persons who include elected officials, has engaged in conduct with the purpose and effect of undermining the agreement and injuring the museum’s rights under the agreement.”
    The letter further states: “The city has never offered an alternative site to the museum for its board to consider, but instead has engaged in this conduct. The museum alleges that the city has delayed the conveyance of the property; opposed the building of the new museum in the location designated in the agreement after the city determined that location is appropriate; encouraged others to oppose the agreed-upon location of the new museum; formed a task force to find a different location for the new museum and to address issues that were already settled by the agreement; and demanded that the museum take actions that are not required by the agreement.”
    Mohn, who has been the most vocal of the council, is adamant in the fact that he is not opposed to the construction of the new museum downtown. “We just want some questions answered,” said Mohn. “No one is stopping them from raising money. But if the museum is not in the right place and people don’t want to contribute money to it, then we won’t have a museum downtown.”
    Mohn pointed to the recent Fayetteville After Five event as another source of questions. Members of the Save Festival Park Committee were at the park’s entrance to try and gain signatures on their petition against the museum’s location in Festival Park. Museum officials had Fayetteville police officers make them leave the grounds of the park. The museum had, in fact, rented the park for the evening, but Mohn and others question how they will act when they have ownership of half of the park.
    {mosimage}Mohn said the idea behind the task force was to allow for full public discussion of the issues surrounding the park and the museum. He added that the museum was initially very receptive of the idea of the task force. “Now, they are saying it should be handled in a more private environment,” he noted. “It needs to be in the open rather than behind closed doors.”
   The city responded to the letter via the city attorney, Karen McDonald, who noted that the “city categorically denies that it has breached its agreement with the museum.”
    Rather than backing down from the issue, the city prepared to move ahead, appointing the members of the task force during its Aug. 25 meeting.
    “We are going to continue to try and find a way for everyone to come together and have a discussion, answer some questions and get a museum downtown,” said Mayor Tony Chavonne. “We are continuing on our track with the task force. We do not believe there has been a breach of contract.  It is in everyone’s best interest for this to be done out in the open and to have involvement from all parties.”

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