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Bill Kirby Jr.: City wants more time before decision on $6.6 million for Civil War history center

This rendering shows proposed exhibits for the N.C. Civil War & Reconstruction History Center. More are at https://eisterhold.com/projects/north-carolina-civil-war-and-reconstruction-history-center
This rendering shows proposed exhibits for the N.C. Civil War & Reconstruction History Center. More are at https://eisterhold.com/projects/north-carolina-civil-war-and-reconstruction-history-center
Esterhold Associates

Call it a breakdown in communication.

Call it, if you will, a lack of courtesy.

After all, Mac Healy and Mary Lynn Bryan came to the Fayetteville City Council work session Monday to hear from Mayor Mitch Colvin and Mayor Pro Tem Johnny Dawkins about their further thoughts on the proposed $80 million N.C. Civil War & Reconstruction History Center that would be built on the grounds of the Museum of the Cape Fear Historical Complex.

“They pulled it,” a frustrated Healy was saying on his way out of City Hall.

Healy is chairman of the history center foundation’s board of directors. Bryan is co-chairwoman. They came Monday night to hear the mayor talk to the council about a funding agreement of $6.6 million as part of the city’s financial contribution to the history center. They came to hear from the mayor pro tem about his plan to ask for an agreement among the city, state and history center board.

Others came, too, including local supporters and history center board members John Caldwell and Demetrius Haddock, as well as Darin Water, deputy secretary of archives and history with the N.C. Department of Natural and Cultural Resources in Raleigh.

All of them came to hear from the mayor, the mayor pro tem and even Courtney Banks-McLaughlin, the District 8 councilwoman who wants no part of the city financially supporting the Civil War history center. She pulled her request from the agenda, too.

There wasn’t much discussion.

No explanation from the mayor.

No apology, either, to Healy, Bryan and others.

Freshman Councilman Mario Benavente was taken aback by all of the agenda pulling.

“Are we not discussing anything related to the history center this evening?” Benavente asked the mayor. “It seems like maybe there was some interest in taking care of that tonight, and I wanted to give an opportunity to do that.”

Not a word.

Discussion, the mayor said, was off the table this night at the request of Dawkins, Banks-McLaughlin and himself.

The session instead was about shelters for those in need during storms and disasters that come our way; the homeless; upcoming public safety, street, sidewalk, infrastructure and housing bonds on the Nov. 8 ballot; street and pavement updates; and watershed management. All good stuff, and important for council members to hear, but Healy and Bryan came expecting to learn just where the mayor, the mayor pro tem and council members stand about allocating $6.6 million for the history center.

‘It’s complicated’

Colvin and Dawkins offered explanations after the work session.

“It’s complicated,” the mayor said.

There is a 7 p.m. Oct. 11 meeting at Mount Sinai Missionary Baptist Church on Murchison Road, where many in the African American community are expected to ask history center leaders for more information on the proposal. The public can learn more from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Oct. 17-21 at Highland Presbyterian Church.

Reid Wilson, secretary of the N.C. Department of Natural and Cultural Resources, will be in town on Oct. 12 for more conversation with city leaders, and the mayor says he wants “some formal agreement” and assurance that the history center will tell accurately the story of Black slaves before, during and after the Civil War.

“They’ve done an incredible job,” the mayor says about Mac Healy and Mary Lynn Bryan.

The mayor should have said all of this when Benavente was wondering aloud about why there would be no discussion of the history center.

As for Healy, he’ll tell you that time is money, and construction costs are running up the $80 million price tag to build the N.C. Civil War & Reconstruction History Center.

‘Advance notice,’ please

“I would have loved for some advance notice of it being taken off the agenda,” Healy said Tuesday morning. “We have had numerous community meetings and have a series of meetings scheduled for Oct. 11 at Mount Sinai and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. at Highland Presbyterian Church. Our commitment has always been to continue to update the community, and we will continue as long as there is a chance to have this center in Fayetteville. The county realized this and voted to fund the center several weeks ago so we could move forward with contracts and further fundraising.”

So far, the state is financing $60 million for the history center. Cumberland County has committed to $7.5 million, and there are, according to Healy, roughly $14 million in private donations that include pledges, artifacts and endowments.

“Our ask is that if the city does want to honor its commitment that they vote on that so the costs will not continue to rise every day,” Healy said. “As I said, every month the costs rise by $150,000.”

In other words, the clock is ticking.


Time is of the essence.

“It will be a shame if Fayetteville does not manage to become the home of this history center,” Mary Lynn Bryan said Tuesday. “The center will bring added positive visibility to our community, new economic development for Fayetteville and the surrounding region in the form of new jobs and new visitors and services. And I hope a special pride that our community is willing to look at and learn from a difficult and more than troublesome period in the history of North Carolina, a past that unfortunately still resonates today, and by understanding our past look forward with a sense of empathy and commitment to working together for a better future for all.”

Time is of the essence, and it is time for the City Council to vote one way or the other.

Bill Kirby Jr. can be reached at billkirby49@gmail.com or 910-624-1961.

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