Arts Council building on City Council agenda
By Ty Johnson
Published in News on June 19, 2011 1:50 AM
The Goldsboro City Council will decide Monday if the city will go through with its intention to purchase the soon-to-be-former building of the Arts Council of Wayne County.
The budget amendment to allow the city to pay $500,000 for the 2406 E. Ash St. property is on the consent agenda for Monday night's City Council meeting.
The city is planning to use the property for an Air Force museum.
And although the city has barely begun its renderings and schematics for the proposed museum, discussions about how to acquire and to maintain artifacts and how the facility will be staffed have already come up several times in council discussions, with some wondering if the project can be financed in the current economic climate and others saying it is too good an opportunity to pass up.
The move has also been questioned because of the cost of the building -- and the estimated cost of repairs that will need to be made before the site can be turned into a museum.
Research on the possibility of creating a museum in Goldsboro began earlier this year.
Interim City Manager Tasha Logan, Director of Finance Kaye Scott, Chief Inspector Ed Cianfarra and others on the city's museum exploratory committee visited the Mighty 8th Museum near Savannah, Ga., March 9, where they toured the museum and discussed its operation with the Mighty 8th staff.
The committee gave an initial report at the March 21 council meeting, and a more detailed second report at the council's meeting June 6. The report says that while no collection of exhibits to fill the museum exists, it would not be hard to acquire media for the museum.
Henry Skipper, the president and chief executive officer for the Mighty 8th Museum, said obtaining artifacts to fill the museum would not be a difficult endeavor, although it isn't an exact science.
"They usually don't cost anything. Normally the airplanes you get are either loaned from the United States Air Force Museum or given to you by other museums," he said. "The B-17 we own we've had for more than two years (and it) came from the Smithsonian."
With the U.S. Air Force Museum, he said it comes down to what the facility has as to which museums have their requests filled.
"You put your request down and when something becomes available they give it," he said.
That is why 4th Fighter Wing historian Dr. Roy Heidicker said it is far too early in the process to speculate on what artifacts might be available for donation to the city's proposed Air Force Museum.
"We're really not at that point yet," he said. "Only when they are actually open for business can the museum approach the Air Force and say, 'Can we get artifacts ... to put on display?' That's part of the challenge."
The city could begin making a wish list, he added, but only when the building is operational will the National Museum of the Air Force entertain such requests. Seymour Johnson Air Force Base officials do not have the authority, Heidicker said, to hand over items currently housed at the Goldsboro installation.
But Heidicker is optimistic that once the building is "open for business," the National Museum would be willing to loan some of its artifacts to the proposed museum.
"A lot of what they have is basically in storage," he said. "And they want something like this to succeed. I think there would be a real excitement ... because of the heritage of the 4th Fighter Wing."
Heidicker is hopeful local residents see the concept -- and support it -- for what it is: an opportunity to "share a great story."
That local involvement is critical, Mighty 8th archivist Vivian Rogers-Price said, because the secret to running a successful museum lies in utilizing private donations moreso than artifacts and exhibits on loan.
"Private donations, by far, outweigh what I have from the Air Force," she said, noting that she has two aircraft, four or five engines and a Quail decoy missile on loan from different museums. "We don't like loans because loans usually have an end date."
She said although the national museum is usually very generous, there is always the chance that an artifact could be called back, leaving a void in the museum which could be difficult to fill, depending on the artifact.
"The goal should be to have them be donated so that the museum owns it," she said.
Being creative and flexible in what the museum accepts and displays can benefit the museum, as well. Dr. Rogers-Price said the Mighty 8th's B-17, one of the main draws to the museum, was a wooden model used to create the bronze cast of a B-17 which is on display in front of the Air Force Academy.
She said her museum's P-51 Mustang and E-109 models are fiberglass replicas that were donated. She suggested city officials contact a local aeronautics club for information about models.
She said oftentimes groups of radio-controlled aircraft flyers have members who build smaller scale models of actual aircraft, adding that a number of her models were donated from remote-controlled aircraft hobbyists who wanted their work preserved. That would work, she said, especially since the Goldsboro exploratory commission reported that any aircraft models to be displayed in the museum would need to be one-half or one-third of their actual size.
"In Savannah, we've got a B-24 hanging in our visitor's center that an 8th Air Force veteran made. When he died, his family didn't know what to do with it, so they donated it," she said.
Donations, Dr. Rogers-Price said, would be especially possible since the museum will register as a non-profit, making such donations tax-deductible for their appraised worth.
The Mighty 8th Museum, which opened in 1996, has since matured to the point that Dr. Rogers-Price said she doesn't really need to purchase artifacts, although there were purchases made in the museum's early days.
"I'm certain that, if you get the word out, people involved with the 4th Fighter Wing are gonna have things that they'd like to give to you," she said. "I get things every day so I don't feel the need to purchase things. What I want is high density shelving for storage because this building is a museum plus a major research center."
CALL FOR SUPPORT
But the direct financial support of other municipalities to get the project off the ground, which council members said was an initial selling point for them on the museum, might be more difficult to acquire.
Council members Bob Waller and Don Chatman said the involvement of other government entities and groups has been a part of the museum discussions from the beginning, although District 6 Councilman Jackie Warrick said no one, to his knowledge, has pledged to provide any funds.
"As we said in the beginning, this is not a city project," Chatman said. "This is a community project."
Warrick recalled discussions in the beginning among council members about getting other municipalities on board, but none have come forward so far.
"I don't think we can do it by ourself," he said.
Waller said he feels all of the organizations in the county should support the museum project with funding.
"The economic development people should be behind us, the Chamber of Commerce and military affairs committees and civic clubs," he said. "They should tell us what they can do or can't do."
Waller said the majority of the council feels it would be a countywide project.
"It cannot be just a Goldsboro project. I hope it can be worked out so it can benefit everybody," Waller said.
Chatman said he had heard council members had approached different government entities about helping with the project.
WHAT DO OTHER
The town administrators for Fremont and Pikeville said they had not heard anything formally proposed about the project as of June 7, and County Manager Lee Smith said the county had heard no requests either when he was asked about the county's position on the museum Friday.
"The county has not been formally requested to participate in the project. I've heard discussion in the community but there is yet to be a presentation about it. I can say it's not in my recommended budget for 2011-2012 and it's not in capital budget for this coming year. The only thing is repairs to some buildings and the senior center project," he said.
Smith said the commissioners have not even discussed the project, but that any new projects would be difficult this year with the projected strained budget.
"I would not want to speculate as to what (the commissioners) would do, but any new project would be tough," he said, noting that agency donations to WATCH, WISH and other groups weren't able to be increased this year due to budget cuts. "Based on funding and revenue streams, we've not even been able to consider them. We've not been able to do anything additional."
And that's not likely to change, he said, especially since the commissioners have suggested they would like to see a revenue neutral budget this year.
"I don't see a lot of additional money for some time in the next fiscal year or two," he said. "If the county commissioners begin to look at adding capital projects, like schools, county buildings or whatever, it would require additional revenue, meaning a growth in tax rates."
HOW SAVANNAH DID IT
The county government in Georgia was instrumental in assisting with the costs associated with the Mighty 8th Museum, but not ahead of time. Chatham County, Ga., Manager R.E. Abolt, who has been with the county for 23 years, said veterans of the Mighty 8th approached the county commissioners and said if they were given the land they would build a museum. According to the Mighty 8th Museum website, the planning for the museum began in 1983.
The commission gave the land to the project and the intent was to issue bonds to earn the revenue needed to complete the museum.
"We hoped the bonds would pay for it, but it was not successful by way of revenue," Abolt said.
The commission, seeing Savannah's heritage as the home of the Mighty 8th hanging in the balance, put it to the voters to determine what to do next.
"The voters approved a sales tax that allowed us to retire the debt and now we're free and clear of it. The museum itself is self-sustaining."
Mighty 8th Museum finance and personnel director Pam Vining said the museum operates separate from the county, though the municipality owns the building.
"When the debt was paid they acquired the building. We just own the business and assets," she said.
According to the explor-atory committee's report, the 15-year-old facility is 90,000 square feet and boasts an annual attendance of 100,000 visitors. The museum's operating budget, at $1.97 million, is supported by $800,000 from admissions at $10 per adult visitor, $200,000 from gift shop and online sales, $300,000 from memberships, $100,000 from grants and $120,000 from rental events.
The report indicated that the museum has 19 full-time and 12 part-time, with support from about 100 volunteers.
City officials have suggested that costs associated with staffing the 4th Fighter Wing museum would be minimal thanks to the outpouring of support from veterans who said they would love to volunteer to work there.
However, Bill Graham, commander of the local Veterans of Foreign Wars, American Legion and Veterans and Patriots Coalition, said nobody at City Hall has never asked if he and his comrades would be willing to volunteer at the proposed museum.
Volunteers at the Mighty 8th Museum assist with tours and help out in the library, Mrs. Vining said, but the museum also has a whole team of volunteers that is helping to restore a B-17.
Mrs. Vining said the volunteers are especially helpful during the spring months, when school groups travel from South Carolina, Florida and other Georgia schools to the museum.
"It saves our cost of labor with tours because we don't have to hire extra people."
-- Staff writer Kenneth Fine contributed to this report.