Harrisburg, Pa., has cleared a legal hurdle to the auction of its Wild West artifacts, which city officials say could bring as much as $6 million to Pennsylvania’s teetering capital.
“The next step is getting Guernsey’s to Harrisburg and let them open up the artifacts and let them do what they do best,” Mayor Linda Thompson said after city controller Dan Miller signed a contract with the New York auction house.
Harrisburg is mired in about $340 million of debt that it cannot pay, mostly tied to bond financing overruns from an incinerator retrofit project. The artifacts sale is part of Harrisburg’s recovery plan, which state-appointed receiver William Lynch is overseeing.
The contract itself got tied up in legal bickering between Thompson and Miller, who plans to challenge Thompson for the mayor’s seat later this year.
Miller wouldn’t sign the contract without City Council approval and appealed a Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania order for him to sign the contract. Lawyers debated whether Guernsey’s fees out of sale proceeds constituted an expense.
But Commonwealth Court senior Judge James Gardner Colins last week refused a Miller request for a stay while he appealed the case. Miller then signed the documents.
“The proceeds of the auction are critical in order to maintain the continued operations of the city government,” Colins wrote. “Therefore, it is in the best interest of the taxpayers that these loans be retired as quickly as possible and whatever funds may be recovered from the sale of the Wild West artifacts be used to reduce the principal of those notes.”
The city has an estimated 7,800 items sitting in a warehouse near the incinerator, stemming from a failed attempt by Thompson’s predecessor, Stephen Reed, to start a Wild West Museum in Harrisburg.
Legal delays almost scared away the auction house, according to Thompson. “We risked losing Guernsey’s,” she said.
Thompson said holding the event over several days in Harrisburg will help local businesses. “This will generate a lot of foot traffic. Hotels and restaurants will be jumping with people, and the revenue will stay right here.”
This summer will mark the 150th anniversary of the Civil War Battle of Gettysburg. That city sits about 40 miles southwest of Harrisburg.
Harrisburg is negotiating to sell its incinerator to the Lancaster County Solid Waste Management Authority, and also plans to sell its sewer and wastewater systems and revenue-producing parking garages, but the city expects some stranded debt to linger despite those sales. Officials hope to get bond creditors to concede to a haircut.