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After months of talks to determine the fate of Fayetteville’s Market House, the City Council decided Monday to restart the process to include more direct involvement from residents.
The controversial historic landmark at the city’s center once hosted political meetings and business transactions. In the years before the Civil War, that sometimes included the buying and selling of Black men and women as slaves.
For this reason, protests erupted around the Market House in 2020 following the murder of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man born in Fayetteville, by a Minneapolis police officer.
The protests led to council action. Instead of demolishing or relocating the landmark, the City Council last April moved to make a plan, with help from the U.S. Department of Justice, to repurpose the landmark due to the high costs of the other two options.
Monday’s 9-1 decision came after DOJ representative Dion Lyons presented the federal agency’s findings following months of discussion with several community organizations. The council, however, voiced dissatisfaction with the amount of involvement from the general public.
If the council had voted the other way, the DOJ group and the Fayetteville-Cumberland Human Relations Commission would have reconvened in the near future to make a formal recommendation on repurposing.
This repurposing could have taken many forms such as increasing pedestrian space, exhibiting art that displays Black history and allowing vendors each month with a focus on Black farmers, entrepreneurs and artists.
About 80 community leaders participated in the discussions, Lyons said during the presentation prior to the vote. This included those from several organizations, including the local NAACP chapter, the city of Fayetteville, the Police Department and the Fayetteville Police Accountability Community Task Force.
Courtney Banks-McLaughlin, the only council member who voted against ruling out demolition or relocation, spearheaded the move to restart discussions. Despite involvement from community leaders, she criticized the meetings not being open to the public.
“Open it up so that there can be more interaction, more people to have input. Not handpicked,” she said.
Council member Shakeyla Ingram agreed with this criticism, citing the need for more outreach.
“Go to where these people are every single day,” Ingram said. She suggested speaking with residents at community watch meetings or even grocery stores.
Mayor Mitch Colvin commended the work by the DOJ but ultimately decided to vote in favor of more community involvement.
“When you’re dealing with over 208,000 citizens of the city, we have to be very careful that we can hear from every area or every group,” he said. “This is our first bite at the apple. And we don’t need to rush into trying to fix something. We want to make sure we do it the right way.”
Council member Larry Wright voted in favor of the action as a way to make sure all perspectives are heard.
“We’re not going to make everybody happy in this process,” he said. “At the end of the day, regardless of what decision we make, there’s going to be a group that’s not going to be happy. As a city council, we realize that.
“As long as we do our due diligence, and I agree with sending it back and getting a larger scale.”
Council member Johnny Dawkins was the lone dissent in the vote. The council could include more direct resident involvement after the DOJ finished its process, Dawkins said.
“These folks have been spending many hours, hundreds of hours,” he said. “They’ve engaged a lot of people. This is just the beginning of the process. They’ve got many, many hundreds of hours to still go.”
Lyons said he would help in increasing resident involvement in any capacity that he can.
Council moves to remove fence around landmark
Also at Monday’s meeting, the City Council voted 9-1 to remove the fence around the Market House.
It was originally put up as a barrier between the public and the landmark while repairs were being made.
During the protests in 2020, two men, since charged, set fire to the Market House in an unsuccessful attempt to destroy it.
Repairs from that damage have since been completed.
Allowing the public back into the Market House is an issue of fostering free speech, council members said.
McLaughlin was the only dissenter. She did not explain her reasoning during the discussion preceding the vote.