"It's very important for the future of the community and the two institutions," former Newport News Mayor Joe S. Frank said outside after the vote.
Frank was one of a handful of speakers who supported the merger during a 60-minute comment period.
Frank and others said the primary benefit of the merger is to ensure the financial support of the arts center. Pfac has struggled over time to meet its financial obligations, he said, and the university has a strong record of raising money.
"CNU's opportunities are pretty much boundless," he said.
Under the merger, the university will acquire all of Pfac's assets, but the center will be self-supporting without funding from the university for its operating budget. It would benefit from specific funding, such as for capital improvements.
Members were told in a letter before the meeting the center would remain at its current location, and classes and exhibits will continue as scheduled. But according to people who attended the members-only meeting, CNU President Paul Trible said his plan over the next few years would be to build a new arts facility on Christopher Newport University's campus.
Member Carol Ficklen, 69, of York County, said one of her major concerns was what would happen to the building.
"I will be disappointed because, at my age, this represents just one more thing…that has had to, because of the time in which we live, become what it wasn't when it began."
Other members said they were concerned the process was not transparent.
They learned about the proposal in a letter last month. Some said they were discouraged the letter did not tell them how to get a copy of a memorandum of understanding that included details about the transaction. They were further discouraged to learn that in order to get a copy, they would be required to sign nondisclosure agreements that forbid them to discuss, disseminate or otherwise disclose the memorandum or any of its contents without prior written authorization.
After signing the agreement, members received via email a version that redacted personnel and specific financial information from the copy. They had to go to the center to view the original version.
Members told the Daily Press they also saw a lack of transparency at the meeting. The Daily Press was unable to attend because the meeting was only open to members. Pfac is a private institution but has received more than $84,000 from the city, more than 10 percent of its budget, in each of the last two years.
Lynne Oglesby, a contract employee with Pfac, said no one told them they could sign up to speak at the meeting. She said she did sign the nondisclosure agreement to obtain the memorandum and was frustrated she could not share it with other members. She said members were not offered a copy of he memorandum at the meeting. Her main concern, she said, is what will happen to the programs and its employees.
"The MOU did not give me confidence that the core programs would continue after the move," she said.
Daily Press editor Karen Morgan and reporter Katherine Chiglinsky contributed to this story.