A proposed mural project in Southern Pines first considered last summer is continuing to generate plenty of discussion among town leaders. The goal of the project is to encourage foot traffic and the resulting economic development to the neighboring areas around downtown Southern Pines.
But after going around the table during a work session on Monday, the Town Council agreed that, at least for now, no tax dollars will be involved.
Town planner BJ Grieve and Chris Dunn, executive director of the Arts Council of Moore County, presented recommendations by a collaborative ad hoc committee that included members of the West Southern Pines Civic Club, Southern Pines Business Association and the Southern Pines Appearance Commission. They had identified 13 potential locations for murals, but the intent is to limit the project initially to no more than five murals.
Grieve said the cost of a mural depends on its size and complexity. The committee suggested the town contribute $2,500 in seed money for a mural, for a total outlay of $12,500 to get the project started.
Councilman Mike Saulnier said he appreciated the thoughtfulness of the project update, but said he did not agree with the idea that the town would financially support artwork on a privately-owned building. Instead, he said he would rather put tax dollars into a study of possible recreational uses of the Whitehall Tract, a 157-acre new park property that was officially annexed into the town earlier in the same meeting.
Dunn said he understood Saulnier’s point and that the intent of the public-private partnership was to make sure all parties would be invested, including the property owner, the town and the muralist.
Assistant Town Manager Jessica Roth said the town’s investment did not necessarily have to be a financial contribution. She recommended the town could provide assistance in other ways, such as an in-kind donation of lift equipment for a project.
Grieve responded that the $2,500 amount was simply a “flag in the sand” to reflect the town’s commitment to the mural project, but noted it was not a requirement for the program to move ahead.
“The point is just to show this is something the town council supports. The numbers are just something we started with,” Grieve said.
The discussion initially kicked off last summer when a local family requested a mural at the Harbour Place shopping plaza; however, the town’s existing sign ordinance does not contain language to appropriately guide this kind of design decision.
Dunn said the ad hoc committee studied how other cities, including Sanford, manage their mural programs. He recommended the town could move forward with the Harbour Place project, which the Harbour family had indicated they would be willing to fund.
“I know right now we could do one mural, but I’d like to make a bigger impact,” Dunn said. “It would be its own outside community art display, because it is all public art.”
Saulnier said he did not have a problem with the concept of a mural project but would rather see the seed money come through a different revenue source, such as the Convention & Visitors Bureau proposal to raise the hotel occupancy tax to fund additional promotional activities and tourism-related expenditures.
“If there could be sme funding that comes in and does not have to rely on taxpayer dollars. It (mural) is not a bad thing but a more of a nice to have thing,” he said.
Councilmen Mitch Lancaster and Bill Pate also said they supported the mural project and were not necessarily opposed to the town contributing seed money.
“I think it is a good investment. I think they are great and provide vibrancy to the town,” Lancaster said.
“I like the concept and see there is a public benefit...but the logistics of it, I’d want to make sure it is controlled,” Pate said. “I like the structure (of the agreement) and that there are multiple levels of approval.”
Mayor Pro Tem Paul Murphy said he would prefer to see the murals have a general theme, a consistency of sorts.
Mayor Carol Haney said she agreed with having a limited number, “if you have a few it is unique. But if you have too many murals, it will be watered down,” and wanted to see if the increased room tax proposal is approved by the county.
“I would really like to see the CVB give us a fair share that we can put towards something we want. I do like the project and I’m very excited about it. I just wish we had money sitting around for this sort of thing.”
She recommended letting the ad hoc committee move forward with contacting building owners about potential murals. The Town Council will continue discussions about whether to contributed any seed money during their upcoming budget retreat later this spring.