The Winston-Salem City Council approved the purchase of the former U.S. Bankruptcy Court building on Liberty Street Monday night, setting the stage for the New Winston Museum to create a new cultural attraction between downtown and Old Salem.
The council voted 7-1 to move forward with buying the two-story building for $1.65 million, with plans to turn around and lease the building to the New Winston Museum for $1 per month.
The building sits just south of the Business 40 work zone. When the bridge carrying the Strollway over Business 40 is finished, the south end of that bridge will feed pedestrian traffic into the site where the former court building sits.
The site will also become a way to commemorate Winston-Salem’s African American history: The building occupies the place where colonial-era slave Peter Oliver had a farm after he purchased his freedom.
Mike Wakeford, the interim executive director of the museum, called the city’s decision a win for the ability of people in Winston-Salem “to tell their own stories.”
“We believe the city needs a museum telling the history of all our communities,” Wakeford said after Monday night’s council meeting.
The city’s Finance Committee had split 2-1 on the decision last week, with one member absent. North Ward Council Member D.D. Adams had voted against the proposal in committee, saying that the museum’s location was not likely to be an attraction for people who were not oriented to going downtown.
Monday, Adams voted against the purchase, but made no further comments against it.
Wakeford told the Journal that the New Winston Museum has been searching for a permanent home for some time.
Wakeford said that the museum is starting a capital campaign in 2020 that will raise the money needed to convert the former bankruptcy court into a museum While the city is helping by leasing the building to the museum for a nominal amount, it will be up to the museum to pay for the alterations needed to create the museum in the space.
Wakeford estimated it may require another year or year and a half to get the museum up and running in the space.
The council approved the purchase swiftly on Monday without discussion.
Last week, several council members who were not members of the Finance Committee voiced support for the museum.
While the dollar-a-month lease to the New Winston Museum will give the museum a financial hand, legal requirements do force the city to put the lease proposal out for upset bids. Although the dollar-a-month rent would be easy to top, city officials said someone submitting an upset bid would also have to commit to carrying out the cultural purposes of the project.
The city is buying the building and its 1.5-acre site from the Conservation Fund, which is acting as the middleman between the city and current owner Merz Family Investments.
The city is also “inheriting” the lease of second-floor space in the building now rented for $25,000 per year to the state for offices of the N.C. Highway Patrol. The patrol will stay for now and the city will collect the rent, passing about $15,000 of the amount on to the New Winston Museum.