Thursday, March 10, 2005

Garden Club, city near agreement

Staff Writer

The Town and Country Garden Club got a nod from the Holly Springs Board of Aldermen Tuesday of last week that paves the way for a possible long-term lease of the “Old Presbyterian Church” building.

The club wants to restore the historic shotgun style house beside City Hall as a project for the community. The structure, which was moved to its present site before the Civil War to make ready for the current historic Holly Springs Presbyterian Church, is one of a handful of such early church buildings left in the state. It also served as a living quarters.

City attorney Ki Jones reviewed the terms of several leases of historic homes for the board before discussions with Jean Ann Jones with the Garden Club.

He said the historic antebellum home and property, Montrose, was donated to the city with the intent of it becoming a house for the Holly Springs Garden Club. The city entered a 99-year lease with the club.

The Ida Barnett Wells property was purchased by the city and leased to a non-profit organization for use as an African-American art gallery and museum. The city leases that property on a year-to-year basis for $1 a year, Jones said.

The Town and Country Garden Club asked the city for a 99-year lease on the Old Presbyterian Church so the club wouldn’t invest a lot of its money in improvements with the risk of the city calling it back for tourism or other uses, he said.

In a draft agreement prepared by Jones for the city and club similar to one held by the Chamber of Commerce, the garden club would be given a 20-year lease with a clause that would reimburse the club pro rata for expenditures should the city cancel the lease.

“The club would get a safety net in case the lease was terminated,” said the attorney.

Jean Ann Jones said the club was not in favor of the draft contract and the attorney urged that a middle ground could be reached.

“We are taking a building of absolutely no worth at present condition to the city,” she said. “If we don’t take the project on in five years that building will be ready for the wrecking ball.”

She enumerated the problems at the structure: the back of the building falling down, deteriorated exterior wood, doors missing, and bathroom falling in.

It would take several years to restore, she said.

“Its a project we would like to have,” Jones said. She asked for a 25 year lease.

Alderman Nancy Hutchens asked Jones for assurances that the facility would be available for the city’s use when the schedule was open.

“Or any group,” she said. “I realize we will have minimal charges for use because of utilities to take care of. It would be something the city would be proud of.”

Alderman Tim Liddy said he is in favor of doing anything that can be done to save the building.

“We should try to work this out,” he said. “If it took $30,000 to get it in shape, over 30 years that would be an appropriate rate for rent, anyway.”

“It would revert back to the city if the club went defunct,” said the attorney.

Mayor Andre’ DeBerry wanted written assurances that the “Little Church” would be available for unforeseen needs the city might have such as promotion.

He said the city wants to avoid being “locked out” by contracts and agreements.

Liddy said the state department of Archives and History could have funds that would help restore the structure.

“That building has potential,” he said.

Jones said there are some limitations. The building has narrow halls and a small bathroom which would make it impossible to meet accessibility regulations, she said. Adding a ramp at the front would be against historic register rules, she said.

DeBerry quibbled about the length of the lease that was requested.

“What is the difference in 20 and 25 years?” he asked.

“Twenty-five just sounds better,” she said.

“Are these sticking points?” asked the mayor. “What other points are not negotiable?”

“We are most anxious (to begin),” said Jones. “This is the time of year (to start projects).”

“I am in no way trying to dissuade you,” said DeBerry. “We have to be careful stewards of city property.”

Jones explained how her club has spent much effort and money over the years taking care of projects like the cemetery. She said the club is not likely to start anything and leave it without something drastic happening.

“We are not interested in a year-by-year lease agreement,” she said. “Down the line things may change (administrations). If we had it for a certain number of years, it would give us a lot more years, and it would come back to the city if anything happened.”

DeBerry asked if the club wanted a 25-year option, a so called evergreen option, which would give the club the option to renew from year-to-year after 25 years unless a reason was given.

“It would be 25 years before the city could step in?” asked Hutchens.

“I motion to give them an up-front 25-year lease with no schedule of depletion,” Hutchens said.

Alderman Russell Johnson asked what would happen if the city needs the facility back for an emergency.

“What would we ever use it for?” said Liddy.

“Nothing now,” said Johnson. “In 25 years to be locked in, we may need the property.”

“I think you are talking about an emergency, and they’ve already said we have access for special things,” Hutchens said.

“We all work together in Holly Springs,” Jean Ann Jones said.

DeBerry said any agreement should have a termination clause that allows an out for both parties.

“If we terminate, you have the advantage of what we have achieved,” Jones said. “If you terminate, we have nothing.”

“What if the city has a clause and for some reason you are not able to do improvements to the extent we feel you should?” Hutchens asked. “It would give us a way to say we want the building back. That holds you all accountable to get some work done over the next 20 years.”

With that discussion Alderman Garrie Colhoun seconded Hutchens’ motion to revise the contract for the next meeting. The motion carried 4-0 with Alderman Naylond Hayes absent.

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