Issue heading to February public hearing

The Albemarle Charlottesville Historical Society has taken the first step toward the renewal of its lease of the McIntire Building on Second Street Northeast.

At Tuesday’s City Council meeting, the organization presented a report on the goals it was asked to meet before the council considered the lease renewal.

The report came after questions were raised about the historical society’s operations. The council in 2013 approved a lease with a request that the society meet several goals. In 2017, city staff said none of those original goals had been met.

“On Oct. 17, 2017, in response to concerns raised about previous society leadership, City Council voted to require our organization to focus on 10 stated goals so as to continue any lease agreement with the city,” reads a statement from the society’s executive director, Coy Barefoot, who assumed the role last March.

Councilors gave the society until March 2018 to focus on those goals, but that meeting did not occur until April.

“As of today, the historical society completed nine of the 10 council goals as they outlined in their 2018 historical society report,” Paul Oberdorfer, the city’s director of public works, said at Tuesday’s council meeting.

The goals included allowing the City Council to appoint a third of the historical society’s Board of Directors, requesting that the organization forge relationships with other institutions in the city and directing the society to submit audited financial statements to the city. The goal that was not fulfilled was an audit of financials in 2017. It could not be undertaken due to a lack of financial controls in that year, according to the society. The City Council agreed that an audit for 2018 would be acceptable instead.

The staff report to the City Council suggested a three-year lease agreement beginning May 1 with the option of two one-year renewals. The subsidized lease for the former library building would be $750 a month with a 5 percent annual increase every May 1. Until March 2018, the rent was $182 a month. City staff said the fair market value rent for the building is about $9,500 a month.

Mayor Nikuyah Walker was among the councilors who were not comfortable with extending a lease of that length.

“I do have some concerns about locking into that, especially with … hiring a new city manager and for them being able to review any and all contracts,” she said.

Walker suggested a renewal for a year and then further discussions once a city manager is in place. Barefoot said the lease proposal was needed before March 1 in order to fulfill a requirement of a grant.

“The immediate ramification is that we have close to $23,000 on the table from the Perry Foundation that we desperately need, yesterday,” he said.

In December, the historical society received approval of $22,950 for video equipment, shelving, lighting and museum displays.

“Payment of Perry’s grant is subject to the Historical Society receiving a five-year lease from the city of Charlottesville,” a letter from the foundation to the society states.

The three-year lease proposal with the potential to renew it for two more years would suffice, Barefoot said.

Barefoot added that the constraint on the Perry Foundation grant was an example of a larger issue. Some donors have shied away from the society until there were signs of a healthier relationship with the city.

The historical society, founded in 1940, has called the McIntire Building, located behind the Jefferson-Madison Regional Library and across the street from Market Street Park, its home since the 1990s. During the period when concerns were raised about the direction of the historical society, its membership dropped dramatically and the previous president and executive director, Steven G. Meeks, abruptly resigned in February.

“We have a new board in place, nearly half of whom are African-American, and a new executive director … who has done impressive work to quickly turn our organization around and put us on the right track for the future,” said Shelley Murphy, chairwoman of the society’s board.

“We now offer an all-new suite of programs, projects, exhibits, tours, classes and much more. … Our staff enjoys the full support and confidence of our board,” she said.

“We feel very confident and proud that we turned this organization around,” Barefoot said.

The lease now is scheduled for a public hearing at the council’s Feb. 4 meeting. Councilors indicated to city staff that the final resolution should no longer include the council-appointed board member requirement and explicitly note that the lease is for three years with the option of two one-year renewals.

The City Council also on Tuesday approved a raft of items on second reading in its consent agenda. Among them were two appropriations, totaling $875,000, for projects related to the U.S. 250 Bypass commuter trail; zoning text amendments that clarify and revise definitions and designations; and the release of an easement for a stormwater retention facility at Seminole Square shopping center.