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County agrees to buy Hedrick-Rhodes VFW post

Henderson County commissioners agreed on Monday night to buy the Hedrick-Rhodes VFW Post 5206 building at Five Points but delayed for now a tougher decision on a $4 million renovation and placed a condition that a parking problem be solved before closing.

All five commissioners said they supported saving the VFW post, once said to be the largest in North Carolina, as a way to honor veterans who served abroad and came home and those who gave all.

"I started to pull out some gory pictures my brother made while he was serving in Iraq to help remind all of us what these veterans of foreign wars have given to us in the community and to this country," said Commissioner Michael Edney, who has spearheaded the county's negotiations to buy the building. "They gave their all. I see this as an opportunity for us to give back to them while at the same time providing a resource for the entire community. I see this as something we have to do. It's just a matter of how we get there." A major renovation "is a separate issue" from buying the property. "We're not tied to that by what we do tonight."

Commissioner Rebecca McCall said: "There has been talk about, 'Well, VFW isn't as active as it was in the past when the building was built,' but there are other things that that building can be used for in addition to providing them a home." She was alarmed, she said, when she watched a show in which interviewers asked middle school students a question about World War II. One responded, "That was when we were with the Germans fighting against the Japanese, right?"

"We should not forget where we came from and how we got here and it's a responsibility of all of us to hand that down to those who follow," she said. "I actually see this building not only as a museum for housing the artifacts from the wars but also a place can take our children on field trips" and show them "what's made us who we are."

Chairman Bill Lapsley said that a new offer to purchase should:

  • Clarify the purchase price. The contract included a commitment for the county to pay the post's outstanding debt. The amount was not spelled out. "The county has been told that number is appoximately $10,000," he said. "I don't want this board to be surprised by some bill that may show up at the closing that we're not aware of."
  • Clarify the lease arrangement. The agreement "allows the VFW to continue to operate for an unspecified period of time under a new lease agreement," he said. The motion should stipulate that the county, and not the VFW, would decide what uses go in the building if there is a major renovation.
  • Delete reference to "negotiations" with the VFW over repairs and improvement. "I don't think the county should be in a position where another party would have control over whatever money is spent," he said. "I don't think we want to leave any question that VFW would have veto power over what this board decides it wants to spend."
  • Include a solution to the parking shortage. Talks are ongoing among officials with the city of Hendersonville, the School Board and the county on how to acquire enough land for parking. The parking lot in front of the post home is mostly owned by the School Board, not the VFW. "That is not clearly addressed in the contract and I think that's important to protect the county taxpayer that that be included in the agreement that this issue be worked out. If that is not included in an amended contract this board is in no better position than it was 2-3 weeks ago when the issue was brought up."

Mark Morris, a real estate agent who marketed the property for the VFW, said the purchase price of $35,000 would cover "the carrying cost to sell the property ...  where they're not out of pocket."

Formed in 1946, the post is named for two Navy sailors who died aboard the USS Arizona at Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941 —
Paul H. Hedrick and Mark Alexander Rhodes. Soldiers, sailors, Marines and airmen who came home from World War II formed the new post and bought property at Five Points for the post home, which opened in 1948.

"The VFW was thriving before Covid," said Morris, who initially listed the property for more than $500,000 last summer. "They lost the ability to raise money. That's what brought a lot of this about. ...  There is a 48-star flag that flew at Pearl Harbor in that building. There are photos of Pearl Harbor. The VFW is not trying to dictate how the building should be used. They want these items preseved for all the county. Their first and foremost goal is about preservation of the events that occurred. These people gave. They served in the active theater of war — that's what a VFW is. ... We all fade away but the history is there for generations."

Morris said the VFW is not looking for authority over the renovation process.

"It's a very simple agreement," he said. "They want a place to meet once a month and a place to occasionally hold a dance or a community event. Whatever political issues exist ... those can be overcome for the common good. ... The community in my opinion needs to give back and this is a way to do that."

Lapsley responded, "In no way whatsoever have I disparaged or mislabeled what the veterans of this country did for my freedom and my family's freedom."

In his motion to purchase the property, Edney included some though not all of Lapsley's proposed conditions. The motion, which passed unanimously, authorized the purchase at a price "not to exceed $36,000" and with the understanding that the county "will be the owner but will work in good faith with the VFW ... and seek their guidace and input in the renovation."

"The bottom line is it's the county's project with the taxpayers' money," he said, before stipulating that the county also will not close on the purchase "until the issue of parking has been addressed and rectified."

That bounces the issue back to the School Board and city and county officials, who are trying to untangle a park swap while addressing the parking need for a more robust use of the VFW. The Board of Commissioners on Feb. 1 rescinded its Aug. 19 vote that opened the way for School Board to deal Edwards Park for around half of the city's Berkeley Park. At their meeting a month ago, commissioners said they needed to reverse their earlier decision in order to potentially keep at least part of the Edwards Park land for VFW parking.