News: CJ Exclusives

Greensboro Facing 10 Bond Votes

Citizens will have opportunity to place value on cultural amenities

Greensboro residents will have the opportunity to place a dollar value on culture and entertainment this fall. But they could be spending much more than the cost of the average ticket.

The Greensboro City Council has placed 10 bond referendum items on the ballot for the election Nov 7. Citizens will be able to vote on the items separately, but altogether the projects would cost a total of $106 million. Another $8.6 million for the construction and renovation of libraries is expected to be placed on the ballot later this summer.

Including the amount for the libraries, almost half of the total would go toward projects that would enhance culture and entertainment in Greensboro.

The largest amount, $36 million, would go toward War Memorial Auditorium for renovations of the lobby, seating areas, and balconies.

Council members voted on each item individually, and the motion to place the auditorium bond on the ballot passed, 9-0.

Even Councilman Tom Phillips, who reliably questions every expenditure of taxpayers’ dollars, endorsed the auditorium bond.

“They’re not going to be many bonds that I’m going to be supporting tonight, but this is one that I feel we need to do,” Phillips said. “I would be looking to go to Charlotte or Winston-Salem to see a Broadway show rather than in our auditorium, because it really is antiquated.”

Two other projects that were placed on the ballot will be supplemented by an infusion of private funds. Voters will decide whether the Greensboro Historical Museum will receive $5.3 million in bond funds for renovations to provide additional exhibit space, including the acquisition of equipment and furnishings.

Lee Williams, a member of the museum’s board of trustees, told the council the museum had raised $1.5 million of its intended $1.6 million goal to help supplement potential bond money.

Williams told the council that the museum had recently been listed as an affiliated site of the Smithsonian Institution, status that would help attract more visitors. “It will really make this museum a destination site not only for people in Greensboro but for people across the country,” Williams said. “We are on the move. We would appreciate your support.”

Again, the council unanimously voted to place the museum bond on the ballot.

Another museum received $5 million. But questions remain about the International Civil Rights Museum, which is still under construction 13 years after its foundation.

The museum appeared to be making headway when water problems were discovered in the basement, setting construction behind even further. It is seeking affiliation with the Smithsonian, so repairs must be done to carefully control heat and humidity according to the institution’s standards.

In a phone interview, museum Executive Director Amelia Parker said the museum still did not have a definite opening date. She also declined to cite specific numbers in the museum’s private fund-raising goal, saying a status report would be issued later this summer.

Still she’s confident that the museum will achieve its full potential as a community resource. “We are very encouraged by the support we are getting and excited about the potential this holds for our community,” she said.

The issuance of the bond is contingent upon the museum raising $5 million in matching funds. There was no discussion before the vote, and fellow council members Sandy Carmany and Mike Barber joined Phillips in voting against putting the bond proposal on the ballot.

By far the most controversial proposal was the $8.6 million bond for the Greensboro Public Library system.
Another proposal was put forth to add $2 million to the bond so a new library could be built on land slated for a new school in the northeastern section of Greensboro.

Though the proposal passed by a narrow vote, Phillips and Mayor Keith Holliday expressed concern that there weren’t enough citizens living in the new Reedy Fork development, where a new library was planned for construction.

“I think it’s premature to do the library at this point,” Holliday said. “I don’t think you’ve got the critical mass of citizens from Greensboro living there.”

“It’s too early to be doing that,” Phillips said. “There’s not enough development at Reedy Fork yet.”

Phillips was also bothered by the school system’s involvement in the project. The proposal, which the Guilford County Board of Education had already signed off on, was for the library to be situated at a new school in the Reedy Fork area, with both students and public using the library. In such a situation, the library would be open to the public only when school wasn’t in session. That’s not fair to the public, who would be paying for the library, he said.

He also expressed concern the existence of public library on school property might be a draw for sex offenders. “I talked to a school board member and he says he’s OK with it,” Phillips said. “But frankly, I’m not comfortable with just about every decision the school board makes. I disagree with virtually everything they say.”

But in a later phone interview, Phillips said the council had met with school board Chairman Alan Duncan, who answered their questions about the project.

As it turns out, the council decided not to tack on the extra $2 million after all, Phillips said, because the need wasn’t as urgent as originally thought.

“Once our questions were answered, we decided we didn’t need to do this,” Phillips said.

But he thinks the original $8.6 million will be placed on the ballot. But that doesn’t make him feel much better.

“I personally believe a lot of these bonds need to be put off,” Phillips said. “It’s not a question of whether they’re needed or not. Yeah, we have some areas where we need to build some other branches. But we haven’t seen our revenues growing and we’ve had some real tough budget years. Until we see things starting to improve, I think we need to hold off on a lot of these things. But I’m in the minority.”

Sam Hieb is a contributing editor of Carolina Journal.