Marianna City Commissioners failed once again Tuesday night to decide the future of the historic First National Bank building downtown, as they convened for their regular monthly meeting. Commissioner Paul Donofro was applauded at one point by the audience that included members of the Artist’s Guild of Northwest Florida and Main Street Marianna Director Charlotte Bruner, all of whom want the city to match a readily available state DCA cultural grant of up to $400,000 and begin renovations on the inside. They want to turn the stately four-columned 1902 building into a museum and art center. As he first explained at a city meeting in July, Donofro recommended—and made a motion that-- the city commit up to $250,000 in available “CRA funds” (taxes collected from downtown businesses for downtown improvements) and move the project forward, adding the possibility of utilizing up to $100,000 in additional available state Division of Historical Resources grants if needed. Donofro figured that existing available grants along with the DCA matching grant could bring the total to $680,000, if other commissioners weren’t ready for the city to go after the full $800,000 in possible total spending.
Commissioner Allen Ward seconded Donofro’s motion to proceed but Commissioners John Roberts and Travis Ephraim, as well as Mayor Rico Williams, wanted to know more about the terms of the grants and, once secured, how the money would be spent. “I don’t like the approach,” Roberts said, “I don’t like the idea of getting a blank check for (up to) $400,000 without us knowing how the money is going to be spent. “ Roberts also questioned whether it was the right place for a museum. “I’ve walked through it,” he explained, and while the outside looks like something built in 1902, the inside is office space that looks like it was designed in the 1980s, which it was when the First Bank of Marianna remodeled it. Why would it take $800,000 to remodel the interior?”
Further, Roberts also questioned the propriety of committing the CRA funds instead of using them as planned--to move utilities off Lafayette Street. Roberts took issue with the lack of support for the museum project by the Jackson County Tourist Development Council. Bruner asked the TDC for $85,000 in June but TDC members also wanted to learn more about the use of the facility and how the money would be spent. The TDC finally agreed to match 10 percent of what the city put towards the project, but only up to $40,000. “I’m disappointed in the TDC’s attitude,” Roberts said. “Marianna is a city of 6,500 people but 25,000 within a five-mile radius and the TDC has $1.5 million. What about that,” Roberts asked TDC Director Pam Fuqua in the audience. “It’s in a locked box,” she replied. “Well, it can be opened,” Roberts said. “I don’t have the key,” was her riposte.
Michele Kimbrough, the wife of former Jackson County Chamber of Commerce President Art Kimbrough and member of the Artists Guild, addressed the commission and suggested that the group’s phenomenally popular Annual Sunday Afternoon with the Arts, usually held at the Chipola Cultural Center, could be moved downtown and even extended, bringing more people to Marianna and making it an even bigger tourism draw. “Some have called the building ‘just a box’ with a pretty façade,” she said. “ We disagree. In artistic terms, this building is a blank canvas—a canvas that, if we have enough vision, will make our community better. This iconic building will not only promote the culture of our area, it will grow the economy in its vicinity for the next 100 years.
“The Artist Guild has long had a goal of securing a permanent facility,” Kimbrough continued. “ It would be a place that allows us to offer programming to all ages, have exhibits, exhibitions and sell artists’ works. It would be an economic engine that draws in paying customers and attracts tourists year round. Our members and volunteers would help operate it and make it an asset for the city, not a liability.”
The insistence by the Mayor, Roberts and Ephraim for an architect’s or planner’s detailed report of what the money would be used for, possibly being costly itself, almost caused Donofro to retreat. But the architect Donofro agreed to do it himself by reexamining an estimate of the scope of the work that he completed at his own office four years ago. It was agreed that he will present his updated findings to the other commissioners—and the audience-- on Wednesday, Sept. 17, before or after the budget workshop. At that meeting, he may detail the costs for needs such as a new roof and a planned second floor.
The Marianna City Commission of 2008 bought the 4,000 sq. ft. building at the corner of Lafayette and Caledonia streets from Wachovia Bank, which eventually sold its modern bank building next door to current resident Wells Fargo. The city has a need to do something with the property, and the word “demolish” was brought up at the meeting Tuesday night, more than once. “We have to do something to save that building,” Donofro said at the end of the hour long discussion. “I rescind my motion and we will come back to this on the 17th.”
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