A nonprofit exploring ideas for the future of the Pike-Fletcher-Terry House in Little Rock says it opposes a plan by the city attorney to return the property to the heirs of its original owners and hopes to see a new use for the property that will benefit the public.
In a letter last week to the Little Rock Board of Directors, the Terry House Inc. board stated, "We have just begun a dialogue with the University of Arkansas Fay Jones School of Architecture and Design to utilize the house in partnership with the City of Little Rock for programing and to establish a presence for the university in Little Rock for students as well as a cultural center for the entire community."
In the next paragraph, the board said it would be "illogical" to return the house to the family of the original owners.
Little Rock owns the vacant building and 2½ acres of surrounding property at 411 E. Seventh St. in downtown.
A lawsuit was filed in October 2021 against the city, the Arkansas Museum of Fine Arts and the museum's foundation by six of the heirs of the two sisters who gave the mansion to the city in the 1960s for the use and benefit of what was then known as the Arkansas Arts Center.
In court filings, the heirs argue the now-vacant mansion has been left to deteriorate and title to the property should revert back to them based on the breach of the conditions of the deed.
Among other remedies, the suit also seeks a judgment for breach of contract "in an amount that will be required to restore the Property to a good and sound condition in which it could be used for the advancement of the cultural, artistic, or educational interests of the community."
Earlier this month, City Attorney Tom Carpenter sent a memo to the city board stating that he plans to try to end a lawsuit over the historic building by seeking to return the property to the plaintiffs.
In his memo, Carpenter stated that "the property should revert to the [heirs]" because it has not been properly maintained.
"Effectively, the property has already reverted," Carpenter wrote.
According to the Terry House Inc. letter, the house was known as the Arkansas Arts Center Decorative Arts Museum from 1985 through 2003 and was renamed the Terry House Community Gallery in 2004.
From 2004-2019, it served as a community gallery, a costume workshop for the Arkansas Arts Center Children's Theatre and an event venue, the letter says.
"Since then, the house has fallen into disrepair," the letter says.
The nonprofit's board said it wants the city to honor its original promise to the owners and operate it as a cultural and education center.
Its members include Susan Borne and Beth Foti, who are heirs of the house's original owners and plaintiffs in the lawsuit against the city and museum.
"The group has been meeting monthly ... brainstorming and researching various ideas for a future purpose of the Terry House," Borne, chairman of the nonprofit's board, wrote in an email to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette on Friday.
"The group toured the house and grounds in the spring and is concerned about the lack of progress being made to renovate and repair the structure."
She said she has consulted with Wilson Stiles, a retired historic preservation architect who splits his time between Little Rock and Sarasota, Fla. Stiles helped develop Architecture Sarasota, which "provides a forum for the education, advocacy and celebration of good design in the global-built environment," Borne said.
After that meeting with Stiles, Terry House Inc. has been pitching a similar idea to the UA architecture school, Ellen Fennel, a member of the nonprofit's board, said Friday.
"[Those] talks are just beginning so we really can't discuss anything in detail at this point," Fennell said.
Michelle Parks, a school spokeswoman, said the dean, Peter MacKeith, was traveling and unavailable for comment Friday.
Carpenter did not return messages seeking comment.
Aaron Sadler, a city spokesman, said Carpenter's office is "reviewing the letter and will respond at the appropriate time."
Meanwhile, the lawsuit is moving forward. On Wednesday, Little Rock attorney Richard Mays, who represents the plaintiffs, filed a letter to the court requesting a two-day jury trial.
"My clients want to see the property continue to be used for artistic, education and charitable purposes and that it be maintained," Mays said in a phone interview Friday. "They would like to work with the city to try and achieve that. The city has not been cooperative in the least."