04/16/12 — Exhibit candor: City rushes a flawed museum idea. Time for speaking up is running out.

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Exhibit candor: City rushes a flawed museum idea. Time for speaking up is running out.

Don't look now, but your opinion might not really matter if you don't express it soon.

Seems plans for the city's new Air Force museum are more than just in the planning stages -- they are moving along briskly.

Now this might surprise some of you since, in the past, the project has been portrayed as in the exploratory phase and the leadership has promised to provide answers to a variety of questions before any significant work is done on moving it forward. They have also offered the option of selling the building if the project does not pan out.

Would it surprise you to know that plans are already being made for the building's immediate use ... and there is not necessarily a plan to sell it if it does not become an Air Force museum?

The Air Force museum project is a curious thing. It makes no sense in this economic climate, and the city does not seem to have the money, really, to afford to do it and do it right.

And over the last few months, there are have even been a couple of stories across the nation about similar museum efforts that have been plagued by financial concerns and faced closure, making it even more astonishing that a city would be launching this sort of effort now.

So why in the world is the city pursuing this project -- especially since there are many, many people in this community who feel it is a worthy project being planned at a most inopportune time and in a most inconvenient space?

Speculation abounds. But one has to wonder if perhaps a couple postulations might be true:

A. The city was pushed into a deal to save a struggling local organization and had to act quickly, in spite of doubts and concerns and is now stuck in a bad deal and is trying to make it work.

B. There is some kind of behind the scenes connection that wants this project and the money it will bring in construction or restoration dollars.

Either would explain what can at best be called imprudence and at worst, irresponsibility.

But, of course, there is also one other possibility. Perhaps city officials know something we do not.

Maybe the money in the occupancy tax fund is going to go "poof" in the next six months and city officials have decided to go ahead and spend it. Or, perhaps city leaders have forgotten the lessons their parents taught them about a penny saved is a penny earned -- especially when by saving the money you could do something bigger or better.

No matter what the answer, this is a bad decision.

We have said this 1,000 times and now we are going to say it once more: An Air Force museum is not a bad idea. But the problem is, the current plan is flawed, potentially expensive and not well-thought-out. All those factors are a recipe for disaster -- and almost a guarantee that when the time comes, there will be no money for other projects the city so desperately needs.

A pretty Air Force museum will not help this city attract investment.

Solid infrastructure, a welcoming and thriving downtown, affordable housing, good recreational opportunities and quality schools are what attract investors.

So, that's where we need to focus.

Sell the building, now, before any more money is tossed down the drain and anymore expensive contracts are signed. Leave the occupancy tax money in the bank.

And to all you taxpayers out there, pay attention. If you don't, a new museum might just appear before your very eyes in what might be the best sleight of hand so far this year.

Published in Editorials on April 16, 2012 11:11 AM