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Under eviction threat, TDA complies with county demand

The Henderson County Tourism Development Authority today agreed to the terms of an agreement on Heritage Museum funding and future ownership of assets under what board members described as an ultimatum and a threat of eviction.

At an emergency called meeting, the TDA first voted 4-4 on a motion to sign the agreement the Board of Commissioners demanded, then unanimously approved a motion agreeing to the wording the county demanded. It agreed to draft a letter separately setting a November deadline to resolve the dispute over museum funding.

TDA members said they were offended at a threat from the Board of Commissioners of eviction but they ended up agreeing to adopt a funding agreement the commissioners demanded. The TDA last week adopted and sent to the county administration a rewritten version of the agreement. It deleted a sentence barring the TDA from eliminating museum funding and said that the Visitors Center on South Main Street, vehicles and other equipment would belong to the TDA.

“The only problem that I have with taking that out,” said board member Kathy Kanup said of the county's museum  wording, “is this building going to be something they hold over our head… from now on?”

“Absolutely,” said David Nicholson, the vice chairman of the TDA.

“That’s what bothers me,” she said. “I don’t like being issued an ultimatum.”

“Where did y'all read that?” Carden asked.

“It was in your email,” board member B.J. Ramer said.

The board first deadlocked 4-4 on a motion by Connie Backlund to approve the commissioners' version of the agreement.

"I think this is pesky, if I can use that word," Connie Backlund said. "I think this is kind of a pesky issue. We can talk over these next couple months. I think it will serve us well to convey our spirit that we're a collegial and cooperative group who values the tourism value in this community. I think if we don't sign it, it will send the wrong message."

Other board members said they didn't like feeling pressured into reversing last week's vote.

"I do feel like we're over a barrel right now," said board member Selena Einwechter. "I don't think that was in the spirit of cooperation."

The Board of Commissioners also objected to the TDA's position that the agency's building, vehicles and personal property would become the property of the TDA. Carden was told that the Board of Commissioners considered that issue non-negotiable.

"They're giving us the use of this property for the use of tourism developmemnt," she said. "The way they explained it to me is this property has always been listed as being county property, and they see no change in that going forward.... they feel that because they're the taxing authority the money actually is Henderson County's money, and they are dedicating it to the development of tourism. ... This is something they feel they cannot back down on."

TDA member Lew Holloway, the Main Street director for the city of Hendersonville, urged the board to comply with the county's request or risk sending the wrong message.

"It's important that we're a component of economic development in Henderson County," said Holloway. "Moving forward I think it's important to say we know in good faith that you are interested in working this out. We do have some current concerns. We're moving this forward with very specific concerns but we're doing so in good faith with you. We do see ourselves as a part of the county economic development efforts. .. I would hate to come across as combative when I don't believe that is in our best interest."

Carden said the commissioners do want to work with the TDA to resolve the dispute, and they don't object to the TDA negotiating with the museum on a "step-down" funding plan.

"But that one comment, that we would be given 30 days notice and they take this building, that seems negative to me," Einwechter said.

At stake is funding for the Heritage Museum, which since 2007 has received one-half cent of the proceeds from the county's 5-cent occupancy tax. The TDA has allocated $125,000 to the museum this year. Museum chairman Carolyn Justus told the Hendersonville Lightning that the museum is working to raise money through events like the "Sunbonnet and Straw Hat" play.

"It would be doubtful we could raise all our money, at least at this time," she said.

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