ATLANTA — Atlanta Public Library has accepted the donation of the Union Hall Building, but whether that ownership change will settle a dispute over a $25,000 grant the state wants back remains unclear.
Library officials accepted the deed to the Civil War-era building at 114 Arch St. last week from Atlanta residents Bill and Chris Thomas. The gift comes with no encumbrances or mortgage, said Randy Brooks, president of the library board on which Bill Thomas serves.
“We are thrilled by this donation,” said Brooks. “Thanks to the generosity of Bill and Chris, the library will be able to proceed with plans to enhance services to our patrons, especially to the children in the district.”
Brooks added the board will develop plans for building and hopes to present them to the public early in 2018.
“We have been using the building for the past two or three years,” said library Director Cathy Maciariello. “It takes this historic building and keeps it in the public’s hands and so we are really excited about what we will be able to do with it from this point forward.”
The building, which is across the street from the library, previously was the headquarters for Teleologic Learning LLC, a company that Bill Thomas founded. Thomas agreed to lease the building to the library for $1,000 per month for 20 years, and state grant money was used to help pay for remodeling.
State officials said there is no proof that the library ever paid the rent, however, thereby invalidating the lease the library needed to qualify for the grant.
The secretary of state’s office sent a certified letter to Brooks on Oct. 23, providing written notice that the grant money must be repaid to the Illinois State Library within 90 days. The library is seeking an administrative hearing to appeal the state's decision, the secretary of state's office said.
Maciariello said that it is not yet known what impact the donation will have on the order to repay the grant.
“We really don’t know about that and since it is still pending, there is not a lot we can say,” Maciariello said.
In the state's letter, Amy Williams, from the state's Office of the General Counsel, also took issue with a potential conflict of interest stemming from Thomas serving on the board and owning a building the library was leasing.
The Thomases said the controversy had no impact on their donation, which Chris Thomas said they had been considering for several months.
“When we determined that Teleologic didn’t need the building any longer, we didn’t have a lot of options,” she said. “We could sell it, but we wanted to make sure the building was passed on to some organization that would appreciate its history and work to preserve it and use it to showcase Atlanta’s history.”
With the building, the library district will be able to expand its programming and services, develop a full-fledged visitors' center and promote expanded use of the Atlanta Museum, which is next to the Union Hall Building.
“With the acquisition of Union Hall, the library district has created a designated cultural corridor in downtown Atlanta that includes the Downey Building (which houses the museum and Palms Grill Cafè) as well," Maciariello said.
The Atlanta Public Library District recently received notice that it would host a Smithsonian Museums on Main Street exhibition in early 2019. This exhibit and the companion exhibit developed by the Atlanta Museum will be housed in the event space in Union Hall.
“We would never have been able to host this exhibit so effectively were it not for this beautiful space,” said Rachel Neisler, museum director.