Nonprofit presses Maitland for 99-year lease of historic Art Center property

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Last October, we reported on the controversy swirling around the merger of two Maitland’s oldest and most prominent cultural organizations--the Maitland Art Center (based on the lakeside colony built by artist Jules André Smith in the 1930s) and the Maitland Historical Society--into the Maitland Art and History Association (MAHA). Opponents argued that those behind the merger ran roughshod over organization bylaws and didn’t have best interests of the historic property in mind. But proponents argued that the merger was a logistical and financial no-brainer that would bolster the arts profile of the city. “It’s a perfect union,” Doug Kinson, then the mayor of Maitland, told the Weekly. “[So] this spring we made a fast and hard decision to merge and got it done.”

But now, tasked with another decision regarding the Maitland Arts Center, the city isn’t so gung-ho about getting things done quickly. In a meeting today between city officials and representatives from MAHA, the nonprofit reiterated its proposal for a 99-year lease of the property (with a rent of $1 per year), an arrangement it says will help secure long-term “legacy grants” from deep-pocketed donor organizations. But few on the council were ready to give a green light to the hungry new organization. “I get the impression that there seems to be a rush to get this done,” said Maitland mayor Howard Schieferdecker.

The mayor and others on the council expressed fears that by agreeing to such a lease, the city could be putting too much trust in a largely untested organization which is not even a year old. “That’s the elephant in the room – we’re all just a little nervous,” said Councilman Phil Bonus to MAHA director Andrea Bailey Cox. “We don’t have the empirical experience of your success at all yet.”

Yet Cox and her cohort Michael Okaty flipped the equation, arguing that the said success would largely be contingent on having the long-term lease. “If we have [only] a three year lease, it’s hard to get a 40-year grant,” says Okaty.

And without the coveted legacy grants, MAHA representatives argued, it would be difficult to achieve the organization’s lofty aims of becoming a "Stage II" nonprofit and making Maitland a nationally-known arts destination. “It’s a horse and cart issue,” said Cox.

Then came the issue of “metrics” – if the city needed evidence of MAHA’s success before signing on the dotted line, how would this success be judged? Evidently, the council hadn't put much thought into it, so it will meet again at noon on March 2 to better flesh out what the city’s expectations are of whichever group (assumedly MAHA) were to lease the Maitland Art Center property.

Overall, it doesn’t look like the city is going to make a decision on the matter anytime soon. “There’s a lot of major issues that need to be resolved first,” said Schieferdecker.

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