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Massive Rent Increase Could Put Arts Group Out

A clerical oversight could force a local arts-education program to close its doors.

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RALEIGH, N.C. — A clerical oversight could force a local arts-education program to close its doors.

Arts Together supporters said they plan to appeal to Raleigh City Council next week to protest a an increase in the group's rent for the Tucker Carriage House on St. Mary's Street near downtown from $1 to $60,000 a year.

The carriage house, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, had fallen into disrepair in the 1980s. The Raleigh Housing Authority, which owns the property, was thwarted in its attempt to demolish the building, and federal officials demanded renovation of the carriage house as a condition of RHA's obtaining funding for a high-rise project.

RHA agreed in 1987 to lease the building to Arts Together for $1 a year for 30 years, and the group overhauled the building so it could provide classes in dance, drama, visual art, voice, music and theater production  to about 3,000 people.

"They took a dilapidated barn and turned it into a nice-looking building," RHA Executive Director Steve Beam said.

Arts Together was supposed to notify the agency after 20 years if it wanted to exercise its option on the last 10 years of the lease. Because of a recent change in administrators, no one told RHA officials last summer that Arts Together planned to stay in the carriage house, said Mary Ruffin Hanbury, president of the group's board of directors.

"That didn't happen, and that was a mistake," Hanbury said.

RHA now wants to charge the nonprofit about $60,000 a year for the space, which Beam said is still a below-market price. He said the agency is renegotiating many of its deals with nonprofit groups to make up for cuts in federal funding.

"That (Arts Together's oversight) became an opportunity to the housing authority," he said.

Arts Together officials said they feel like they're being held up.

"We've entered into a 30-year partnership, and we'd like to see that respected," Hanbury said.