Wilmington, NC – The Council's 5-to-1 vote in favor of Thalian was an upset for the Parks and Recreation department. They'd recommended the contract go to the Greater Wilmington Arts and Cultural Alliance, or GWACA. In opposing that recommendation, City Council members cited the Thalian Association's long track record managing the Arts Center, and a campaign of support that included a petition, a former mayor, and what one councilman referred to as a gazillion emails. Thalian board president Tom Behm said not getting Parks and Recreation's support galvanized their effort.
"We really needed to hold onto this and had to fight for it," Behm said. "But we fought much harder than if it had come our way and are much more appreciative of what we have to lose."
Parks and Recreation chief Gary Shell, who was in charge of the bid process, said it was a difficult choice, but that he eventually recommended GWACA in part because the group would not use the Center for its own programming, keeping it free from conflicts of interest. Shell raised past complaints that the Thalian Association's need for space had conflicted with the requests of other users. After tonight's meeting, Behm said his group would work to address those difficulties, but blamed past management practices for much of the problem.
The lone dissenting vote, mayor Spence Broadhurst, warned the Council that by urging Parks and Recreation to get more involved in the oversight of the Arts Center, they were being asked to manage the management company.
Only one representative from GWACA attended the City Council meeting. Ruth Haas, director of the Cape Fear Museum and a GWACA board member, said she wasn't surprised that the vote went for the Thalian Association. But Haas said more of her members might have attended if they'd realized the outcome was in doubt. "I guess we just trusted the process. There was no reason for us to have people here because we had a bid that was proposed as being accepted."
Haas said she hoped the Thalian Association might look into some of the ideas GWACA laid out in their proposal for the Center.
The management contract, worth $53,700 a year, comes up for bids again in 2009.
Megan Williams, WHQR News.