Ex-mayor disgusted by Cherry Blossom Fest ‘kindergarten fight’ over Keep Macon-Bibb Beautiful

The Pink House, which houses both the Keep Macon-Bibb Beautiful Commission and Cherry Blossom Festival is owned by the Macon-Bibb Development Authority as long as both entities use it, according to the deed.
The Pink House, which houses both the Keep Macon-Bibb Beautiful Commission and Cherry Blossom Festival is owned by the Macon-Bibb Development Authority as long as both entities use it, according to the deed. breaking@macon.com

The public squabble between the Keep Macon-Bibb Beautiful Commission and the Cherry Blossom Festival over office space has drawn the ire of a former mayor.

David Carter, whose wife serves on the KMBBC board, aired his concerns over the festival’s asking the beautification commission’s CEO, Pam Carswell, to vacate her office in the Pink House headquarters.

“It’s going to tear up the community, and I think it’s going to hurt the Cherry Blossom Festival,” Carter, former mayor of Macon, told The Telegraph. “It’s disgusting to me, like a kindergarten fight down there.”

Carter, who was president of Macon City Council when the city deeded over the property at 794 Cherry St. to the Macon-Bibb County Urban Development Authority in 1990, said KMBBC has just as much right to use the building as the Cherry Blossom Festival.

Although the development authority is listed as owner on the property tax records, the deed stipulates that the property be used by both organizations, or the land and any improvements revert back to the city of Macon.

“How can you evict someone that’s in their own house?” Carter asked.

Use of that land was restricted through the 1990 development authority grant for the property, he said.

“YKK donated money for the building, and we thought it was a great idea to put the Cherry Blossom building on the site,” Carter said.

Alex Morrison, executive director of the Urban Development Authority, said neither organization pays rent for the building.

The Carters, like others involved in the beautification commission, also have been very involved in the Cherry Blossom Festival over the years.

The founder of Keep Macon-Bibb Beautiful, Carolyn Crayton, launched the festival from that organization in 1982.

The groups became separate entities several years ago.

Morrison said the deed is “both specific and vague at the same time” as to what happens if one of the organizations leaves.

“I don’t think anybody at the time, 30-something years ago, anticipated circumstances like this would occur.”

KMBBC officials are scheduled to huddle Monday afternoon to discuss the organization’s accomplishments and recent operations to have talking points ready for a called meeting Tuesday.

Macon-Bibb County Commissioner Bert Bivins asked for the meeting with KMBBC, the Cherry Blossom Festival and the Macon-Bibb County Industrial Authority.

The county has asked KMBBC to submit a detailed plan of action for beautification or risk $110,000 in funds for fiscal 2018.

KMBBC board Chairman Adam Cochran said Carswell emailed more than two dozen people with the organization to announce Monday’s meeting.

It is not yet clear whether a public announcement of the gathering was filed.

Cochran had agreed with Cherry Blossom Festival board Chairman Don Bailey that Carswell would move out of the building for at least 30 days.

Last week, Carswell stated she has “no plans to move.”

“We’re trying to work through what Cherry Blossom has asked us and move forward to better this community ... for the beautification of what the county and the mayor have asked us to do,” Cochran said Monday morning.

Neither Cochran nor Bailey would specifically discuss what led to the festival’s asking Carswell to move.

Chris Floore, Macon-Bibb County’s director of external affairs, has said issues with KMBBC “spilled into the halls.”

When asked if there had been yelling or a disturbance in the building, Cochran said: “I can’t comment on personnel issues.”

Bailey reiterated his position Monday.

“We hope they resolve their issues as quickly as possible,” Bailey said. “The Cherry Blossom Festival needs them to be successful in cleaning up the roads and gateways before the festival.”

Carter suspects the festival wants to take over the KMBBC, its former parent organization.

“I think it’s about money and power and that’s the bottom line,” Carter said. “(Bailey’s) trying to act like a king down there.”

Bailey said that contention was “not worthy of comment.”

Come back to macon.com for updates and read Tuesday’s Telegraph.

Liz Fabian: 478-744-4303, @liz_lines