The project to expand the International Civil Rights Center and Museum in downtown Greensboro, and turn the entire block into a World Heritage Site, is moving along swiftly.
However, Guilford County Commissioner Justin Conrad said the museum should be cautious about counting on state money for the project because the State of North Carolina never paid Guilford County government $7 million that was promised to the county for the construction of a new mental health center.
Conrad said the state never delivered on that $7 million, and he added that the state should still pay Guilford County the money.
“In my opinion, the state still owes us $7 million,” Conrad said.
Guilford County and its mental health service partners opened a new mental health center in Greensboro last year. The entire project cost over $20 million. When the $7 million from the state never showed up, the county commissioners took money away from other county projects and programs and used those funds to fill the hole the state legislators created.
In the past week, both the Guilford County Board of Commissioners and the Greensboro City Council have agreed to give $2 million each toward the museum’s project, which will involve buying the former First Citizen’s bank building next door, renovating that structure and adding exhibits and meeting space. The purchase of the building is costing $10.25 million, and the renovation, exhibit creation and other work will cost an estimated $10 to $15 million on top of that.
In other words, the project will cost about the same as the county’s mental health center did. But since the mental health center is built, the county will likely never see a dime of state money for it.
“Now they say they don’t need to pay because the project is complete,” Conrad said. “But the county could still use that money.”
Like Guilford County, the museum is hoping that millions in funding will come from the state.
The $7 million for the mental health center was included in a state budget passed by the legislature in 2019 and vetoed by Gov. Roy Cooper.
Conrad said he recently read with interest that State Rep. Jon Hardister, a fellow Republican, was in favor of Guilford County funding the museum and was sounding like the state would give money too.
Conrad said that, if the state has money to give to the museum project, then where’s the $7 million for the mental health center, which provides an absolutely essential service.
According to Conrad, he and other county commissioners constantly have to make hard choices about how to spend money and that usually means prioritizing essential county services rather than other things that may be great projects but not essential one.
“I still like Jon – we’re friends,” Conrad said, but he added that he wished state officials would reconsider the funding for Guilford County.