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County renews Pack Place’s allowance

David Gantt RS

County renews Pack Place’s allowance for another year, Provided ‘business model’ stays the same.

By Roger McCredie- “We’re going to give them a year to get straightened out over there.”

That was what Buncombe County Commission chairman David Gantt told the Tribune after last week’s county Cultural and Recreation Authority meeting.

Gantt, who also chairs the CRA, was explaining the rationale behind that body’s decision to award Pack Place Cultural, Arts and Science Center the entire $409,076.00 it had requested from the County for the coming year. The sum is in line with what the county has been paying annually to Pack Place and goes to pay for utilities, janitorial services and related upkeep of the Pack Place building.

There is a significant string attached to the county allocation, however: the money, which is to be dispensed in quarterly installments, is awarded contingent on there being no change in Pack Place’s current business model. Furthermore, the county monies “are not transferable” to any other agency or organization, said Commissioner Ellen Frost, who proposed a measure that both awarded the funds and included the stipulation.

Frost’s and Gant’s comments indicate that the county is keeping a watchful eye on the city’s attempt to gain control of Pack Place, a process which began in late January, the same month that CRA receives applications for funding.

Under the present lease arrangement, which expires the end of this month, the city owns the land on which the Pack Place building sits. The Pack Place corporation owns the building, which was financed by both taxpayer money and private donations. The lease, however, contains a provision that, should Pack Place fail to maintain the property adequately, the city can declare Pack Place in default and seize the physical plant without having to pay any compensation. At the end of January, City Manager Gary Jackson claimed in a letter that Pack Place had neglected “for years” to make needed repairs and was in default and accordingly was facing a takeover by the city.

Pack Place called Jackson’s assertions “completely groundless” and vowed to use litigation, if necessary, to protect itself and its partners, but has taken no actual steps to do so. In April Vice Mayor Mark Hunt demanded that the Pack Place board ask the city for a 60-day lease extension to “tie up loose ends” before the city enters into separate leases with each tenant and effectively guts the Pack Place board of any direct authority. Despite protests that he had no authority to make his demand, Hunt got his resolution.

Gantt, however, confirmed that the County would consider that a city takeover as landlord of the Pack Place partners would constitute a change in business model and would violate the terms of CRA’s allocation. He did not indicate if CRA’s language was an indirect means of telling the city to back off.

If the city were to proceed to become everybody’s landlord at Pack Place and the CRA were to cancel its stipend, the city, as landlord, would presumably be responsible for collecting and paying utility bills, as well as other expenses previously covered by county funds.

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