PEMBROKE — A state legislative committee is recommending that the state take back the North Carolina Indian Cultural Center from the nonprofit that has leased the property since the mid-1990s.
In a study released Wednesday, the committee, which included state senators and representatives, recommends that the General Assembly terminate the state’s lease with N.C. Indian Cultural Center Inc., sell the property and develop a strategic plan for preservation and promotion of North Carolina’s American Indian culture. The committee also recommends that the state terminate its maintenance lease with the Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina for the adjoining Riverside Golf Course, which is now closed.
The committee was set up last summer to evaluate the center as part of a bill sponsored in the state House by Rep. Charles Graham, a Democrat from Lumberton. Graham’s bill, which called for the state to terminate its leases with the nonprofit and the Lumbee Tribe, had passed the House and Senate with unanimous support in both. But it was returned to the House with a companion bill, and was never voted upon before the end of the General Assembly’s 2012 session.
The General Assembly is expected to act on the committee’s recommendations sometime during its long session, which begins next month, Graham told The Robesonian on Wednesday.
Overall, the committee’s recommendation will affect more than 500 acres, divided into four parcels, just west of Pembroke. In addition to the adjacent golf course, the cultural center includes an amphitheater, a lake, swimming pool, museum, picnic area with shelters, a ball field and a welcome center .
According to the study, the facilities at the center are dilapidated, including buildings with exposed wiring and fire damage, an amphitheater that is unsafe and a pool that is not functional. It is estimated that the site would require more than $2.1 million in repairs.
The study also states that the state has no way of monitoring the performance of the nonprofit, and that the structure of the property lease hinders accountability. The lease, the study states, does not include performance requirements.
The committee also found that the center can still meet its original intent of preserving and promoting North Carolina’s Indian culture. It recommends that the General Assembly direct the state Commission of Indian Affairs, which is currently headed by Lumbee Tribal Chairman Paul Brooks, to develop and implement a plan for the promotion and preservation of North Carolina’s American Indian culture.
“The recommendations are what I was promoting from the beginning,” Graham said. “They allow the legislature to move forward in taking the steps necessary to allow the Indian Cultural Center to meet its intended purpose of preserving and promoting American Indian culture across the state and in Robeson County.”
Graham said he is especially pleased with the committee’s recommendation that the state Commission of Indian Affairs become involved.
“I’m pleased with the (committee’s) sensitivity to the cultural value of the center to the Indian population,” Graham said. “This paves the way for the cultural center to be revived.”
Graham’s bill calling for the termination of the lease with the state had been strongly opposed by the nonprofit’s board of directors, whose members have pointed to recent improvements to existing buildings and ongoing construction. Kenneth Preston Hall, the board’s chairman, had not seen a copy of the committee’s report as of Wednesday and declined to make a comment about any of the committee’s recommendations.
Brooks, the chairman of the tribe, was in Washington on Wednesday and could not be reached for comment.