Written by: Elizabeth Blevins
“Mourning is in every household, desolation written in broad characters across the whole face of their country, cities in ashes and fields laid waste, their commerce gone” General Sherman
In March of 1865, General Sherman stormed through our small town, burning the mills around which we’d built a community. His intention was to bring absolute destruction to the South, to ensure future generations felt his wrath. He succeeded. It would be the last time the town of Hope Mills knew real industry. More than 150 years later, our town center is a disorganized mix of pawn shops and nail salons, anchored around a long line of fast food joints, regrettably known as “Hamburger Hill.’ We’re a bedroom community. The residents of Hope Mills choose it for its proximity to Fayetteville and Fort Bragg.
Despite all of that, Terry Jung, the Executive Director of Lone Survivor Foundation, chose us. He chose a forgotten piece of swampy land as the future home of a Lone Survivor facility. And ironically, the very fact that we’d neglected it for 50 years is what made it so appealing. It’s secluded, tranquil and the perfect retreat for soldiers suffering from PTSD.
Yesterday, I spoke with Terry about his search for the perfect piece of land and ongoing battle to buy the property.
More than a year ago Terry began his search. He was diligent, looking at more than 50 properties in Cumberland County before a series of introductions led him to the Fayetteville Cumberland County Economic Development Center. (FCCEDC)
Their staff, which includes Mayor Warner’s son, Teddy Warner, were instrumental in pairing Terry Jung with the property in Hope Mills. Several Commissioners have accused Mayor Warner of collusion, implying that she and her son somehow manipulated the process in which Mr. Jung brought his proposal to the Board.
But Terry Jung disagrees, “I’m confident they’re wrong because we’ve dealt with two other cities in the Cumberland County area (Godwin & Fayetteville) and that’s exactly the procedure we have followed.”
On June 4th, Jung and members of the FCCEDC presented the Hope Mills Board of Commissioners with their proposal in a closed session. By all accounts most of the Board was incredibly receptive of the idea.
“Pat Edwards, Jessie Bellflowers and Meg Larson all expressed very positive thoughts to us. All three of them, when the meeting was over, said to either Tim or me directly ‘We’re gonna get this done.’ ”
But Commissioner Mitchell was hesitant. After quizzing Teddy Warner about the tax value of the land, which has never been assessed, and without conferring with the other Board members, Mitchell quoted a price for 60+/- acres that was much higher than market value. This is interesting in that Mitchell has steadfastly maintained the land was NOT for sale. Jung, who was never interested in buying the entire parcel, was bewildered by Mitchell’s behavior.
“I didn’t know any of the history of Mitchell and Warner, I didn’t know anything about him being beaten twice in a Mayoral election. I quickly sensed something was askew.”
During the initial meeting, no one discussed the 2030 Southwest Cumberland County Land Use Plan or the McAdams Group Parks & Recreation survey. In fact, we know now that the land in question wasn’t initially included in the McAdams survey. It was included July 31st when Commissioners Mitchell and Larson reached out to the McAdams Group and asked that it be added. There was no discussion of the 1999 and 2014 PWC surveys at this time.
According to Jung, no one mentioned that the land wasn’t technically for sale. In fact, not only did Commissioner Mitchell suggest a selling price, but the other commissioners all requested Jung make an official offer as a jumping off point for negotiations.
And no one seemed at all concerned about the way in which the presentation had come to the town. No one suggested a conflict of interest or collusion. They were all, with the exception of Mitchell, in favor of the project and incredibly excited to move forward.
“We left the meeting feeling like this was a done deal…the majority, three out of five Commissioners, said we were gonna get this done.” Jung wasn’t prepared for what happened next.
The morning of the July 18th, Jung received a call from the Hope Mills attorney, informing him the Board had rejected his offer and wasn’t interested in any further offers. He and other supporters of LSF had also been removed from the agenda of the next Board meeting. Undeterred, Jung made the pilgrimage back to Hope Mills and addressed the Board, not once but twice.
“I don’t want to be in the middle of all of these politics – I’m just trying to look out for what I believe is the best for the veterans, and you’ve got a community that is very veteran-centric that seems adamant they want this!”
Jung credits the Hope Mills community, who has been overwhelmingly supportive, with bolstering his resolve to fight on. But he also admits to being frustrated with the antics by the Board and the time wasted.
“We’re willing to fight some more but there’s going to come a point, where it’s not to the benefit anymore of the soldiers.” Jung won’t give an exact timeline, but when 22 veterans commit suicide every day, every day spent waiting is a tragic waste of life.
Crystal Beach Texas, the home of LSF’s first facility, is thriving. After being devastated by Hurricane Ike, which destroyed 7000 homes, they had no economy to speak of. When LSf chose their community to operate out of, it gave confidence to residents who’d lost their homes and they began to rebuild. Today, more than 5000 new homes have been added and affiliates of LSF have purchased 52 acres of land for hosting large-scale events. Each Spring they host a Memorial Day Concert that brings more than 5000 people into the community. They’ve also hosted Jeep and motorcycle rallies. Their economy is rebounding…their reputation is growing.
The media blitz surrounding the Hope Mills Board has helped spread the word to neighboring communities. They’ve adopted a ‘your loss is our gain’ mentality and LSF is fielding offers from towns more than willing to support the organization. We can only assume they recognize the prestige associated with hosting a nationally recognized non-profit organization.
But do the Commissioners of Hope Mills recognize the devastating effects of rejecting a nationally known non-profit organization? Jung was hesitant to divulge details, but he indicated the story of Hope Mills and our squabbling Board IS spreading outside of this community. Other organizations and businesses are taking note of the trouble LSF has dealt with these last two months. We can’t expect them to ignore our bad decisions. We’re standing on the wrong side of history and the nation is watching.
Have concerns about these issues? Contact the Board and let them know!