Tuesday, June 25, 2024

WB museum board president concerned about expired Myers Cottage lease after Bordeaux Cottage expulsion

The Wrightsville Beach Museum of History’s leases with the Town of Wrightsville Beach have expired for both the Myers Cottage and Bordeaux Cottage. (Courtesy Shea Carver)

WRIGHTSVILLE BEACH — As Wrightsville Beach’s Museum of History has been packing up exhibits from the Bordeaux Cottage after receiving a lease termination from the town last week, it also has another expired lease to contend with.

READ MORE: WB evicts museum from Bordeaux Cottage after Camp Chris Stone requests space

The museum has been located at the Myers Cottage and Ewing-Bordeaux Cottage on West Salisbury Street for years. Both properties are owned by the town and the museum is paying $1 per year on a month-to-month lease currently, since the leases expired a little more than two years ago. But the Town of Wrightsville Beach only provided the museum with a lease termination on Bordeaux Cottage last week, stating it needed to “vacate the premises” by March 31. 

On March 22, town manager Tony Wilson sent the letter to the museum. 

“Where we are now is, we’re just prepping our stuff and getting it out of there because we were given until Easter Sunday to get out,” museum board president Jan Brewington said. “We don’t have an active lease with our other building, Myers Cottage. So next week after we finish with all of this, I’m going to request a lease for Myers and see what happens.”

A 10-year lease of Myers Cottage first began in 1995, later renewed in 2018 and 2020, with the expiration of October 2021. 

Brewington said she did not know the lease expired because terms previously lasted 10 years, but now are only for one year. She added former town manager, Tim Owens — who abruptly resigned in January — reviewed the museum’s leases in November and did not see them as an urgent issue, telling her “at some point we should take a look at these.”

The Bordeaux Cottage lease began in January 2018 and was renewed November 2018, before also expiring in October 2021.

“It doesn’t make any logical sense,” Brewington said. “They both expired at the same time and we have not been in any talks about renewing any leases.”

PCD asked Mayor Pro Tem Hank Miller what caused the town to only terminate the Bordeaux Cottage lease on short notice but not Myers Cottage since both became invalid simultaneously. He referred questions to the town manager but said the town was open to renegotiations.

Wilson said he could not comment beyond the town’s Monday statement released on the issue, which only addressed Bordeaux Cottage.

According to the statement, the town met with museum representatives regarding the Bordeaux lease termination to discuss factors involved in a “mutually beneficial” renegotiation, including “insurance, maintenance, landscaping, sub-tenants, and others.”

The statement added the town did not further discuss a lease renewal with the tenant after not hearing back about a “sub-tenant issue,” leading the board of aldermen to direct Wilson to terminate the lease at the March 14 meeting.

“The meeting was about Camp Chris Stone,” Brewington told PCD. “The meeting was not about our lease. We have never been presented with a new lease. We have never had a meeting set to discuss a new lease.”

The museum ended its relationship with the camp in December. At the Feb. 8 board of alderman meeting, camp director Rhesa Stone requested the town’s aid in regaining space at Bordeaux Cottage.

The board of alderman voted 5-0 to terminate the Bordeaux lease at its March 14 meeting, although the issue was not on the agenda. Town footage of the meeting ends as aldermen commence a closed meeting; Wilson told PCD the board reconvened after the closed session to take the vote and confirmed it was not recorded.

Brewington said museum staff immediately began moving valuable archives upon receiving the town’s March 22 letter, which she described as an eviction notice. She said they “couldn’t take a chance” keeping the historical material in a location they were no longer welcome.

Miller said the delivered lease termination for Bordeaux Cottage was intended to open the door to more conversation. He emphasized there is a difference between a lease termination and a court-ordered eviction, and said the town would not have forced the museum out of Bordeaux if they contacted aldermen in an attempt to stay at the cottage. 

“Of course we’ll renegotiate,” Miller said Thursday. “We always were going to renegotiate. That was the whole impetus of sending the letter.”

By Brewington’s account, the board of aldermen never responded to her last attempt to contact them. In a Feb. 29 email, the museum president explained she was available for questions or comments related to the board’s decision to end its relationship with Camp Chris Stone. 

The museum board’s concerns, Brewington said, were outlined at a face-to-face Feb. 23 meeting with Wilson and Miller, as well as board member Virginia Colantuono, including:

  • Inadequate insurance to take children off-site, into the marsh, interacting with animals
  • The Camp’s ratio of children to adults
  • Lack of lifeguards taking children into the marsh
  • Lack of training by camp counselors in sexual abuse and exploitation prevention practices. 

Miller conceded the reasons seemed legitimate, but he suggested to PCD that Brewington meet with Stone to work through them; Brewington said she had tried to reach out to Stone but not received a response.

Brewington wrote to Miller and Wilson on Feb. 28, according to emails obtained by PCD, that the museum’s board of directors decided to take no action on the sub-tenant issue at the Feb. 23 meeting.

“The board has not changed their position on no longer hosting Camp Chris Stone, pursuant to the issues I presented to you,” she wrote.

Miller responded later that day:

“Well then Tony and I will have to get together and discuss what to do. Without any conditions on how the WBM would be willing to host Camp Chris Stone this summer please be advised that it could put your board in a precarious position with only a list from Rhesa.”

Brewington wrote she did not know what Miller meant by “precarious position” but requested the town keep her posted.

“It means you have a month-to-month lease with only one option presented to a board and manager that now have to decide how to move forward without many options,” Miller answered.

Brewington requested Miller keep in mind the museum is a nonprofit that must adhere to its IRS designated mission, as well as “business practice issues” the board encountered.

“I’m with you on that,” the alderman responded. “Just got to go next steps now. Above my instructions at this point.”

Miller told PCD Thursday he would be in favor of renewing communications between the town and the museum to move forward on the issue.

“If they don’t want Camp Chris Stone, they don’t have to have Camp Chris Stone,” he said. “You know, we want the museum to be there. Always did.”

Brewington said the museum may push back on the Bordeaux decision later, but is prioritizing the safe transfer of its artifacts before shifting attention to securing the Myers lease.  

Tips or comments? Email journalist Peter Castagno at peter@localdailymedia.com.

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