Escambia County Politics

What is going on with old Escambia County courthouse?

June 27, 2013

As with so many things in county government these days, no one knows for sure what is happening the space in old county courthouse that is currently being leased by Artel Gallery, but the daily newspaper has reported may soon house a sports museum. Here is the latest email exchange:

From: “>
Date: June 26, 2013 10:21:24 PM EDT
To: District2 >
Cc: District4 >, “>

Subject: from Eloise de Varona

I have been hearing rumors for several weeks that the future sports museum was going to oust Artel from its gallery space and that it was “a done deal.” Fred Levin told me today that you and George Touart were supposed to inform Artel that you had given assurance to the museum committee that the sports museum could take over that space. I can affirm that Artel was never informed by anyone at the county that any such plans were underway.

I find this disappointing, insensitive and dismissive of Artel’s value to the community and, in general, a discounting of the importance of the arts in the Pensacola area. I was under the impression that you were a supporter of Artel and the arts in general, and I must say this makes this whole incident even more distasteful.

I realize that in the “real world” sports and money usually trump art and that Artel and its artists do not possess the influence necessary to block this action. I suspect that the county will decide in favor of the sports museum but the worst part of all is that Artel was not treated with simple courtesy. I invite your response and explanation of this treatment of a valuable component of the arts community in our area.

Eloise de Varona
Former President, Artel Gallery

County Attorney Alison Perdue sent this email to the commissioners:


In response to the media attention given to an issue regarding the use of the first floor of the old courthouse building which is currently used by Artel, I wanted to inform you all of a couple relevant provisions of the Artel lease:

1. The lease can be terminated by either party for cause with 30 days’ notice or for convenience with 180 days’ notice.
2. Artel pays $1 per year for the space. The County pays for the electricity, water, sewer, sanitation, pest control, and routine custodial services. Artel pays for anything else (e.g., telephone, internet, cable TV, non-routine custodial services).

This is for general interest only based on attention to the issue by both the PNJ and Rick’s blog over the past few days. For disclosure purposes, be aware that my mother is a member of Artel. If you have additional specific questions about the lease, please consult Steve West in my office who is familiar with the lease.

I am also aware that the space was renovated in part with historical preservation grant monies and I believe David Wheeler is the person most aware of those details, if you have any interest in that aspect of the space. David, please correct me if I am wrong.

Please don’t respond to this email.


She followed with another email to Commissioner Grover Robinson:

From: “Alison A. Perdue” >
Date: June 27, 2013 9:58:06 AM EDT
To: “Grover C. Robinson” >
Cc: “Dianne C. Simpson” >
Subject: Re: Artel lease

I truly don’t know and have not identified anyone within the County who has been negotiating anything. I have not been asked to amend the lease or to bring the lease back to the Board by anyone, at least not yet. Who is stirring this I don’t know and I was offering the email only because I anticipated these are questions that may be of interest to the Board based on the media reports. However, maybe the Board isn’t interested at all. If you learn anything more, please let me know.

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  • Lars June 30, 2013 at 6:23 pm

    The group that got into trouble with the county was the Arts Council of Northwest Florida.

    Artel has just celebrated its 20th anniversary as an all volunteer, no paid staff, contemporary art gallery. It was recruited by the county to fill that space when the Arts Councils was disbanded.

  • Frank Lee June 30, 2013 at 4:38 pm

    RE: Financial hanky panky — You’re thinking of the Arts Council of Northwest Florida, which was dissolved or disbanded and whose essential duties were taken over by ACE, Inc. — not Artel.

  • jeeperman June 29, 2013 at 1:02 pm

    Unless Artel has done something that violates the lease agreement, this would fall into the 180 day notice category.

    Is Artel just another name for that art group that got into record keeping trouble with the county a couple of years ago?

  • denise June 28, 2013 at 9:03 pm

    Well, at least he’s not trying to give it to the Creek Nation and turn it into a casino… he ? Nah, he wouldn’t do that….would he ?

  • Nick June 28, 2013 at 6:11 pm

    It’s unfortunate and inconsiderate, but it is in the lease that they can terminate the lease for any reason and all that is needed is a 30 day notice. Hope the Artel can find another location soon.

  • Eric June 28, 2013 at 2:34 pm

    Artel:”So I hear you’ve been dismissive, secretive, and insensitive to the community.”

    HV:”Same as it ever was.”

  • Mary June 28, 2013 at 2:02 pm

    Another one of Gene’s behind the scenes deals?