HOPE MILLS - The Hope Mills Board of Commissioners voted 3-2 Monday night in favor of selling the Trade Street property that at one time had been planned as a town museum.
Commissioners Grilley Mitchell, Kenjuana McCray and Bryan Marley voted for the sale; Commissioners Joanne Scarola and Jerry Legge voted in opposition.
The sale of the property had been on the consent agenda. Items there are usually passed without discussion. The item was taken off the consent agenda for discussion at Scarola’s request.
During the board’s budget retreat on March 11, commissioners heard an update on the Trade Street property and decided selling it was in the town's best interest. At one time, the idea was to have a place to display artifacts and tell the town’s history as a mill village, according to Public Works Director Don Sisko. The Public Works Department has the keys to the Trade Street building that Sisko estimated was built in the 1920s.
Rod MacLean, a concerned Hope Mills resident, said he saw the sale of the Trade Street property on the agenda and signed up to speak during the public comments portion of the meeting. MacLean said he felt the board discreetly slipped the sale of the property onto the consent agenda in an effort to hide it from the public.
McLean also expressed concern that the board agreed to sell the property during the budget retreat.
“I’m beginning to wonder about transparency,’’ he said.
Marley said the budget retreat was recorded and open to the public.
“Our budget retreat was open to the public and in accordance with the (open) meeting laws and no one chose to come,” Marley said.
Scarola and Legge said they had been contacted by several concerned residents about the sale of the building.
Before the vote, Scarola raised the issue of whether a museum project was tied to the construction permit for the dam.
The paperwork with the dam permit dated Aug. 26, 2016, stated the town had a museum project written within the permit that should tell the story of the mill and its area, according to Scarola. Scarola said she believed it called for a physical building to hold artifacts.
Mayor Jackie Warner said the town’s history will be presented through the Heritage Park project.
“Heritage Park is one phase of that,” Warner said. “Heritage Park is where we would have the foundation of the old mill and the fact we will have documents in the church that will pertain to that. I believe we are within our rights with this because the main thing was, we were going to record our history.”
Warner asked Parks and Recreation Director Lamarco Morrison to help explain. The project plans to use storyboards and kiosks in Heritage Park to tell the history of the mill.
The town received a federal Parks and Recreation Trust Fund grant in 2020 that will be used to develop signage to talk about the mill and the flood gates, Morrison said Tuesday.
“It was always meant to be a passive park that concentrates on nature and the history of the mill,’’ he said.
The Heritage Park project is in the construction document phase, Morrison said.
Scarola said having storyboards in the park to tell the town’s history might be one interpretation, but she didn’t see it that way. The permit clearly stated a “museum project,” Scarola said.
“We got rid of the parish house and with the Trade Street building being put up for sale, what’s our plan?” Scarola asked her fellow board members.
Town Manager Scott Meszaros reminded the board that they discussed the Trade Street building at the retreat and asked if anyone had any ideas for the building.
“The building could only hold about 5.5 people and if it were a museum with one worker, that would hold just four people at a time,” he said.
No one could make that work, and the building would require extensive IT wiring to bring it up to par for modern use. The building doesn’t fit the town’s needs, Meszaros said.
Mitchell said the decision to sell the building was not one the board took lightly. “We had a very in-depth discussion,” he said.
Mitchell said board members called on town experts to give them the best advice regarding the property.
“Number one, they said it would not be cost-effective. Number two, they couldn’t find any use for the building that holds that small of capacity,’’ Mitchell said. “Number three, we asked if there were a better use of the funds (to upgrade the property) the town could better benefit from.’
The town attorney said selling the building would not happen quickly. He estimated it would take at least 30 days.
Funds from the sale of the building will go into the town’s general fund budget.
Trade Street items disappearing
Items the town deemed as having historical value are being stored in the Trade Street building.
Legge said he has received several phone calls from residents concerned about items disappearing from the building.
“I don’t know what it is, or who it is,’’ Legge said. “They asked me to check in on it. We have some valuable stuff in there.”
Some of the items came from former Mayor Eddie Dees, Legge said.
The board voted to sell the Trade Street property by sealed bid.
Jason Canady covers Hope Mills for CityViewTODAY. He can be reached at email@example.com. Have a news tip? Email news@CityViewTODAY.com.