Wednesday, June 18, 2008

I Knew This Was Coming...

...it was just a matter of when. The feebs at the Barnes Foundation have decided not to pursue an appeal. How can they fight so hard to keep it and then just "roll over"?

‘Friends’ Will Not Appeal Ruling
By MARGARET GIBBONS , Times Herald Staff

COURTHOUSE — The grassroots Friends of the Barnes Tuesday announced that it will not appeal a Montgomery County Court ruling barring the organization from re-opening litigation that cleared the way for the renowned Barnes art collection to be moved from Lower Merion to a new museum in Philadelphia.

The announcement comes on the heels of a similar decision by Montgomery County to abandon its legal effort to re-open the same litigation.

The Friends of the Barnes’ decision comes as no surprise because its members have said they believed that, of the two, the county had the best chance of succeeding.

Both the county and the Friends of the Barnes last year filed petitions to intervene, with an eye towards re-opening the litigation and providing new arguments as to why the $6-billion’s worth of Impressionist art should be kept in Lower Merion.

County Orphans’ Court Judge Stanley R. Ott, in denying both petitions to intervene, last month ruled that neither the county nor the Friends group had status under the law to intervene in the case.

After reviewing that ruling, Commissioners Chairman James R. Matthews and Commissioner Joseph M. Hoeffel III decided that an appeal of Ott’s ruling had little chance of success and that further legal action could result in the courts imposing financial sanctions against the county for taking what could be considered a frivolous appeal.

Commission Bruce L. Castor Jr. was the lone commissioner who favored an appeal, claiming there was little likelihood that the county would be sanctioned for exercising its right to appeal.

With no timetable for the move and the museum not yet built in the city, both the commissioners and the Friends group said they will pursue alternative measures to keep the art collection in Lower Merion. These measures include trying to negotiate a compromise with Barnes trustees to legislative action to try and block state funding for the move.

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 that will 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, had specifically detailed that the collection remain in place.

Since that court ruling, the county has offered to take out an approximate $50-million loan and then use that money to purchase the Barnes properties, leasing those properties back at the yearly cost of the county’s debt service.

The trustees could invest the $50 million at a higher interest rate, using that revenue to pay the lease costs and using the remaining revenue for an endowment.

Also, the township has passed less restrictive regulations concerning the museum operation, including allowing more visitors, to beef up the museum’s revenues.

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


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