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National Civil War Museum agrees to pay city $5.3M for artifactsDeal also calls on museum to pay more rent

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As it turns out, one-of-a-kind Civil War artifacts are not priceless.

To resolve a longstanding financial dispute, the National Civil War Museum's board of directors has tentatively agreed to pay the city of Harrisburg $5.3 million to take ownership of the museum's 25,000 artifacts, which are owned by the city.

Harrisburg Mayor Eric Papenfuse has often criticized the nonprofit museum because of its connection to disgraced former Mayor Stephen Reed, who helped amass the artifact collection in the 1990s, and for its token $1 annual rent agreement with the city for its building in Reservoir Park.

But Papenfuse stood alongside museum officials Monday to announce the new agreement between the two sides, which must still be approved by City Council. 

"It was always my hope we could come up with a workable plan," Papenfuse said.

Under the proposal, the museum has agreed to the purchase price, which must be raised over a five-year period. If those funds do not come in, Papenfuse said the city would look to sell 20 percent of the Civil War collection.

The $5.3 million figure was reached after months of negotiations between the administration and the museum's board, which has signed off on the deal. Both sides said the figure represents a realistic amount for the collection and what it might sell for at auction.

Papenfuse said more than $10 million in city money was spent to acquire the artifacts.

But the agreement offers a "sustainable path forward" for both the city and the museum, Papenfuse said. The mayor said the city plans to direct $1 million of the artifact proceeds into a fund for capital improvements at the museum, while the rest of the money would go toward Reservoir Park improvements.

The city recently commissioned a master plan to overhaul the park at a cost of about $8 million. 

Former museum board chairman Gene Barr said owning the artifacts will make it easier for the board to solicit funds from donors to support museum operations. He believes the five-year fundraising goal is attainable.

"The museum is staying," he said. "There is no question about that."

The agreement with the administration also includes a new rental payment structure. The city will continue to own the museum facility, but the board will pay annual rent of $45,000 to start. That figure will gradually increase to $60,000 per year by the fifth year and eventually peak at $100,000 per year. Rent will remain at that level afterwards. 

For the first five years, no money will actually change hands. The city owes the museum board more than $288,000 in capital expenses, so the rent money will be credited to the board. 

Once actual rent payments are made to the city, Papenfuse said the money will be used to supplement the capital reserve fund to maintain the museum.

According to board officials, the museum attracts about 43,000 people per year. Improving Reservoir Park should attract more visitors to the park and could help grow the museum's attendance. Removing the financial conflict also should ease uncertainty about the museum's future, Barr said.

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Jason Scott

Jason Scott

Jason Scott covers state government, real estate and construction, media and marketing, and Dauphin County. Have a tip or question for him? Email him at jscott@cpbj.com. Follow him on Twitter, @JScottJournal. Circle Jason Scott on .

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