EATON — Original board members of the Preble County Art Association (PCAA) spoke out during the Preble County Commissioners’ meeting on Wednesday, Jan. 15. The former PCAA representatives were concerned with comments made by commissioners in a recent meeting reported on by The Register-Herald concerning the old Art Center on Hillcrest Drive.
The article explained the original lease between the Preble County Commissioners and PCAA, noting the document stated ownership of the property would revert to the county if PCAA ever “abandoned” the building or stopped using it for “art purposes.”
At press time, PCAA Executive Director Vicky Fanberg indicated PCAA does not plan on “abandoning” the building as they have plans to use it for art classes if they cannot come to an agreement with the Preble County Commissioners.
During the meeting on Wednesday, Jan. 15, original PCAA board member Nancy Allen Petty took issue with a comment Commissioner Rodney Creech made in the article, in which he said, “In that lease — which was pretty much written on a napkin — it stated, if that building was ever given up and not used for art purposes, the building and land would revert back to the county. I am in the mindset of, back in the day that was a good deal for the commissioners, not such a good deal for the art center.”
She said, “The newspaper article was misinformed. The lease was not created on a napkin. This was a well-planned lease formed for the benefit of the PCAA thanks to the generosity of the Preble County Commissioners working together for the community’s interest and the need for a Fine Arts Center.
“The lease plainly stated to the total understanding of the Preble County Art Association members and the Preble County Commissioners, that if this property was no longer used as set forth in the lease, the lease is terminated and would be returned to Preble County. Rosie McNees had also made plans for expansion, but this was not considered at this time.”
She added, it was possible the Preble County Commissioners and the PCAA members were not aware of the original lease, but it is “still a valid and legal document.”
Petty ultimately believes it is the “right thing” to follow the lease and revert ownership to Preble County.
“Thank you for allowing me to say what I and other original members believe is the right thing to do,” she said.
“May I comment? I was the one in that article and when it said ‘[written] on a napkin’ that’s not a literal term. That is a term that was said by our prosecutor when we sat with the Art Center and reviewed that contract,” Commissioner Creech said.
“Well, it upset quite a few of the older members, because it made it sound like a joke,” Petty said.
Creech added, it was a term he was repeating.
“It was a blessing to the Art Association. We would not have been able to build as soon as we did if that land hadn’t been given to us to use for 100 years if they used it as an Art Center,” Petty said.
Commissioner Day clarified, “We knew the [agreement], the Art Center knew the [agreement], it is very fair and spelled out very plainly. I appreciate you coming in to clear that up, but the terms were agreed to back then and it was pretty cut and dry that if you guys were done with it, then it should go back to the county.”
He added, PCAA wants to be financially reimbursed for the building, but that was never specified in the original lease.
“I appreciate your input. I feel like over time things change and if both parties are willing to negotiate and it’s a better deal, that’s fine,” Commissioner Creech said.
Petty explained, the original board members appreciated the Preble County Commissioners at the time giving them the land and they don’t want to seem ungrateful now by not honoring the lease.
She added, they have asked PCAA to use the Hillcrest Drive building for children, since the Main Street building is on a busy road.
Commissioner Creech asked who made the decision to lease the land from the Preble County Commissioners instead of putting the new building on land they owned, since the land would have been “worth $3,000 max.”
“Why would we put a quarter of a million dollar building on $3,000 worth of property? You would have been better off to buy your own property, instead of working out a deal with the county,” he said.
Petty responded, “I think it would have been more expensive back then too. Business land costs more than private land.”
“The reason [PCAA] took that opportunity [at the time] was because it afforded you the ability to move forward with the building,” Day said. “I apologize if you felt you were being degraded, that was never our intent,” Day said. “There were decisions made that we have to live with now. It’s pretty clear cut on how it has to [work] out.”
Reach Kelsey Kimbler at 937-683-4061 or on Twitter @KKimbler_RH