Arrowmont, PBP fraternity far apart on talks over land purchase

Dec. 28, 2012 @ 10:26 AM

Arrowmont School and the owner of the property it sits on are far apart on a price for the land, but the school wants the public to know it is trying hard to buy the property and is working "in good faith" to make it happen.

Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts in downtown Gatlinburg made a formal offer in July to Pi Beta Phi Fraternity for Women, an offer based on a certified appraisal the school paid for. The fraternity did not make a counter offer until November, after its 100th anniversary as a presence in Gatlinburg was observed.

Pi Beta Phi's counter offer was millions of dollars more than the school's appraisal, board president Geoff Wolpert said Thursday. The school, which has been in Gatlinburg for 100 years, says the terms of the counter offer "were not feasible for a non-profit educational institution like Arrowmont."

Wolpert said the fraternity indicated it had "an unsolicited offer" from another entity to buy the land, and its counter to Arrowmont was based on that other offer. Wolpert doesn't doubt the fraternity, but did say he feels Arrowmont deserves "consideration for the fact we want to continue the legacy of Arrowmont in Gatlinburg."

Wolpert wouldn't say what the school's appraisal was or what Pi Beta Phi's counter offer was, but did say Arrowmont has offered its full appraised value to the fraternity as a purchase price.

The fraternity has extended its dollar-a-year lease with the school through 2015. The school could remain on the property through the terms of the lease even if Pi Beta Phi sold it, Wolpert said.

Arrowmont decided to go public with its negotiations because of interest from supporters, potential donors and those who take classes there, Executive Director Bill May said.

“2011 and 2012 have been outstanding years for the school in terms of programming, enrollment, and community involvement.  Celebrating the 20th anniversary of the Artists-In-Residence program, with the return of 50 of these artists from across the nation, was a highlight for the school and its supporters," May said.

A phone call and email to Mary Tatum, president of the Pi Beta Phi Board of Governors, was not returned before deadline.

In 2008 the fraternity announced it had an offer from a private entity to buy the Arrowmont property, forcing the school to look for a way to survive, even if it meant relocating. The fraternity deal to sell the land fell through, but Arrowmont fielded proposals from Knoxville, Greeneville and Gatlinburg.

Its board voted unanimously in August 2010 to stay in Gatlinburg, where it has operated since 1912. It also decided to try to buy the property on which it sits from the fraternity.

Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts is a nationally known arts center that offers workshops in ceramics, fiber, metals, glass, painting, mixed media, and woodworking. The 14-acre residential campus features five galleries, an art supply store, and artist resource center.

Arrowmont’s campus is one of few Gatlinburg properties listed on the National Register of Historic Places. A sale to a private developer might endanger those historically significant buildings.

Soon after being named to the list in 2008, Nancy Tinker, senior program officer at the National Trust for Historic Preservation, said, “The story of Arrowmont and Pi Beta Phi are an intrinsic part of Gatlinburg’s history, with their successful collaboration having helped Arrowmont achieve distinction as one of the finest arts and crafts centers in the South.”

With the two sides far apart on a purchase price, Wolpert still remains optimistic about the outcome.

"I just have a feeling," the Gatlinburg restaurant owner said. "I think for an institution that has survived for a hundred years, that somehow things will work out. It's hard for me to be pessimistic until I am absolutely sure we have no other options. I am not willing to give up."