Mac Healy is a successful Fayetteville businessman who has a passion for whatever civic venture he’s involved in. For the last five years or so, he has headed up efforts to bring The North Carolina Civil War History Center to fruition. It would be located on the site of the Fayetteville Arsenal and would be the first history center of its kind in the nation. It would examine the impact of the War Between the States, its lead-up and its aftermath, on all the people of North Carolina.
As envisioned, the Center will deal honestly and factually with much of the 19th Century and will examine the events and impacts of this tragic time in history on all who lived through it. The project will require $65 million in private, local government and state funding. “We have already secured $6.5 million in private donations from the people of Fayetteville and Cumberland County,” Healy said. “We need to secure $7.5 million each from the City of Fayetteville and Cumberland County.” With commitments from local governments and the private money already raised, Healy believes the state legislature will seriously consider a $30 million match. But time is running out. The deadline for pledges from the city and county is Jan. 31, a time when the general assembly will be going into session. So far, neither city council nor county commissioners have made a commitment.
The History Center is estimated to draw upwards of 130,000 visitors to Cumberland County each year. Healy says studies show that cultural tourists stay twice as long and spend twice as much as other tourists. The History Center will produce more than 150 service industry jobs for the community. The center is projected to generate $12 million a year in economic impact for the region. Good economic development, such as the History Center, will grow the tax base rather than being a constant financial drain on the community. Healy tells Up & Coming Weekly he was motivated to get involved in the project out of a concern for economic development in a community that has seen a depressed economy in recent years. “Something like this is needed so badly,” he said.
Cumberland County has seen an unprecedented downturn in population and loss of property values. “Although other communities in our state have seen significant growth since the recession, Cumberland County’s economy has seen a pattern of weak growth,” said County Manager Amy Cannon in her budget message to county commissioners. “A reduction in the rate of growth since 2008 has resulted in a five-year revenue loss of more than $3.5 million,” she added.
Once built, the center will become a state-owned branch of the North Carolina Division of History. Neither city or county taxpayers will pay to operate it. Experts believe other venues will also benefit from visitors attracted to the Civil War History Center, particularly the Airborne & Special Operations Museum, the North Carolina Veterans Park and the Cape Fear Botanical Garden. “As a businessman, I remain convinced that once the county and city elected leaders look at the overall benefits, they will agree that this shows the best return for our hard-earned tax dollars and is more than worthy of their support,” Healy concluded.