Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Castor Urges County to Continue Barnes Fight

By MARGARET GIBBONS, Times Herald Staff

COURTHOUSE — Montgomery County Commissioner Bruce L. Castor Jr. Monday called on his fellow commissioners to continue the legal battle to keep the renowned Barnes art collection in Lower Merion.

Castor said that, as a candidate for commissioner last year, he pledged to do everything legally possible to keep the approximate $6-billion’s worth of Impressionist art from moving to a new, but not yet built, museum in Philadelphia.

“I will remain true to my commitment and urge my colleagues to continue exhausting all legal remedies to keep the Barnes in Montgomery County,” said Castor, a lawyer.

Castor’s comments came on the heels of a report that Commissioners Chairman James R. Matthews has directed the county solicitor’s office not to further pursue the matter following last month’s unfavorable ruling by Montgomery County Orphans’ Court Judge Stanley R. Ott.

Ott in that ruling rejected petitions by the county and the grassroots Friends of the Barnes to intervene and reopen litigation that previously cleared the way for the move.

Matthews could not be reached for comment Monday. (Click on link below to see more)


Commissioner Joseph M. Hoeffel III said that, while the commissioners did not discuss the issue, “I am not inclined to appeal.”

County Chief Deputy Solicitor Carolyn T. Carluccio, who represented the county in the petition to intervene, has told others that the county likely would not win on an appeal, according to Hoeffel.

“I am concerned that if we appeal and the court determines our appeal frivolous, we could be open to financial sanctions and I don’t want taxpayers to have to pay,” said Hoeffel.

However, he added, he is willing to sit down with Castor and the Friends to further discuss the matter.

The Barnes museum, which owns artwork that includes paintings by Matisse, Renoir and C├ęzanne, is located in Lower Merion on property owned by the late Dr. Albert C. Barnes.

Struggling financially, the Barnes Foundation went to the county court in 2002 to get approval to relocate the art collection to a new gallery to be built in Philadelphia to make the museum more economically viable.

Court approval, which was subsequently given in 2004 after protracted litigation, was necessary because Barnes, in his will, specifically stipulated that the collection remain in place.

Recognizing the importance of retaining the collection in the county, the county commissioners last year made an offer to take out a $50-million tax exempt loan to purchase the Barnes land and museums. Under that proposal, the Barnes Foundation could invest that money at a higher rate of interest, using these earnings to pay the county a yearly rental fee equal to the county’s debt service on the bond issue.

Also, other earnings from the invested $50 million could serve as an endowment against which the foundation could borrow if necessary.

This proposal coupled with relaxed visitor regulations established by the township and grants that would be available if the museum were designated as a national historic site would eliminate any financial need for the move, according to the county and Friends group.

The Foundation and trustees rejected what they termed as these “beyond 11th hour” proposals.

Relying on the court’s 2004 decision, the Foundation has secured the funding it needs for the move as well as a $50-million endowment. Also, it has negotiated a 99-year lease with the city for the art gallery and commissioned an architect to design the gallery, he said.

Margaret Gibbons can be reached at mgibbons@timesherald.com or 610-272-2501 ext. 216.

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