City approves sale of Carnegie building to Carnegie Center
THREE RIVERS — After a saga that has lasted months, the sale of the historic Carnegie building to the Carnegie Center for the Arts (CCA) was approved at Monday’s Three Rivers City Commission meeting.
The building, which used to house the former Carnegie Library and currently houses part of the Carnegie Center, was sold by the city to the CCA for $54,000.
The sale comes as lease negotiations between the CCA and the Three Rivers Woman’s Club (TRWC), who were instrumental in creating the Carnegie Center for the Arts 40 years ago, broke down considerably in the last two weeks when the Woman’s Club rejected a lease offer from the CCA that Mayor Tom Lowry said the TRWC felt was “insulting.” The sale of the building was contingent on a lease agreement between the two parties.
Lowry said the TRWC informed the city they would like to be released from their lease and seek alternatives to its current space in the Carnegie building, which they have leased from the city and subleased to the CCA.
The key sticking point in lease negotiations between the CCA and TRWC had been access to the building after-hours for the Woman’s Club as well as having a key to the building. The Carnegie Center had been opposed to granting that access for what they said were security, insurance and liability reasons. Currently, the TRWC can only enter during open hours or ask CCA Director Donna Grubbs for access.
TRWC Second Vice President Jenny Koski commented on the negotiations during public comment prior to the vote, thanking the city commission for their support of the Woman’s Club during negotiations.
“It has been a long ordeal, and the Woman’s Club just felt it was best for both organizations to come to a mutual agreement that the Woman’s Club needs to move on and find other alternatives, let the Carnegie buy the building from the city directly,” Koski said. “We just ask that we have until the end of the year to remove our items from the building.”
City Attorney J. Patrick O’Malley confirmed that releasing the Woman’s Club from the lease would also release them from paying for repairs to the Carnegie building, which have been estimated to cost north of $200,000.
Prior to the vote, Lowry excoriated the CCA and its leadership for how it handled negotiations with the Woman’s Club and for what he said was the “poor quality” of the Carnegie Center’s programs in recent years. In particular, he called out Grubbs, CCA Board President Ben Smith, and Board Vice President Gary Armstrong for “being perhaps the most obstinate and inconsiderate of the Woman’s Club I could ever imagine,” and calling for them to resign from their positions.
“I’d like to ask those three to look at their membership records and ask themselves, why has it declined, why I and dozens of other people no longer renewed our memberships before this year,” Lowry said. “We've all slowly stopped renewing our memberships because of the poor quality of what they do at the Carnegie Center; some of the programs are a shadow of their former selves.
“Even before this issue came up, those three people need to step down,” Lowry continued. “They are destroying the Carnegie Center, and by having a public battle with the Woman’s Club, they have guaranteed a reputation as not very good at the moment with hundreds of people. You eliminate and turn off 100 women from the Woman’s Club, that’s just plain stupid.”
Lowry said he was “tempted to vote no” on the sale, saying the CCA “doesn’t deserve to have the building.” He eventually did vote no on the sale, the lone dissenter in the voice vote.
“The Woman’s Club saved that building when no one else would in the 60s and 70s, and by the way, they created the Carnegie Center, and this current [CCA] board just said, ‘Take a hike,’” Lowry said.
In comments to the Commercial-News Tuesday, Smith said he would explore legal options for a libel or slander case against Lowry for his comments, and wondered why Lowry was “working as an agent for the Woman’s Club” while the parties were in negotiations.
“We have never tried to force the Woman’s Club out, we simply know there’s more money than the Woman’s Club can afford to do in need of repairs that need immediate attention. We have a benefactor who will cover that cost, but we’re not going to spend that money if we don’t have ownership of the building. We won’t put over $100,000, pushing $150,000 into repairs when we had no guarantee that [the Woman’s Club] were there,” Smith said. “We have not said anything in public about the Woman’s Club. We did not push them out, we encouraged them, it’s just that they wanted a new lease, and they wanted more in that lease than what we thought we should give.”
Smith added that it was the Woman’s Club that has asked to get out of the lease, not the Carnegie, and said the CCA was fine with the current agreement.
“We were willing to live with the current lease as it has operated for 40 years with no changes, we were just going to put it in writing so everybody understood what the usual was,” Smith said.
As for Lowry’s comments on programming, Smith said “everybody’s programming is nuts” because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and that “we’re still trying to do what we can do legally.”
At-Large Commissioner Clayton Lyczynski said while it was a “terrible” situation in general with how the negotiations were handled – as an insurance agent, he had previously stated his doubts that an additional key would change the insurance price, “if at all” – he looks forward to what the Woman’s Club would do in the future.
“I’m actually looking forward to the Woman’s Club being able to make their own place and being able to stake their own claim and to be able to display their own history and to really tell their story,” Lyczynski said. “I think their future is extremely bright coming out of this. While it’s terrible circumstances, I’m excited for the Woman’s Club in their near future.”
Robert Tomlinson can be reached at 279-7488 ext. 23 or email@example.com.