Historical society seeks commitment for proposed museum site

Monday, June 21, 2010 | 2:58 p.m. CDT; updated 11:10 p.m. CDT, Friday, March 29, 2013

COLUMBIA — The Missouri State Historical Society wants to ensure it has a site available for its proposed new museum.

The MU parking lot next to the Heinkel Building has been identified as a tentative site for the museum but the society needs more “concrete terms” for the location, said Doug Crews, president of the society’s board of trustees.

The city, has been working on behalf of the society to acquire land for the new building, and about 18 months ago, the city's efforts to acquire the property occupied by Bengal's Bar and Grill fell through. The University of Missouri System offered the parking lot to the city in exchange for use of a city-owned lot next to the parking garage at Fifth and Cherry streets, according to a previous Missourian article.

“Our thought, fairly recently, was that we should get that agreement at least down on paper in writing,” Crews said.

The society has put together a first draft of a memo of understanding regarding the property. While the memo sets the groundwork for making an agreement, City Manager Bill Watkins said last Friday there was no certainty regarding the future of the document. He said the first step is to talk to the City Council and decide whether to meet with the University and the Historical Society for further discussion.

“I have no idea when that will be,” Watkins said, but he said he hoped to bring the subject to the council's attention on Monday night.     

Watkins also said that coming up with an agreement and eventually signing a final draft of the memo could help the society focus on funding for the building, which it currently lacks.

“They want to ask donors for money but first, they need an assurance they have a place,” Watkins said.

The society estimates about $33 million is needed to build the proposed museum. Since it failed to receive the federal stimulus money for the building in 2009, it has had to rely on fundraising drive to raise money. Though it would welcome some funding from the state, Crews said the society would mostly have to be “dependent on private sources.”

“The State Historical Society has about 4,500 members and just like capital campaigns for any organization that’s building a new building or fundraising, we will eventually be asking individuals for donations,” Crews said.

For now, Crews said, the society's focus remains on operating its existing facility in MU's Ellis Library.

He said the society’s operational budget over the past couple years has been difficult because of state funding cuts.

Watkins said it's possible the University will offer only part of the parking lot to the society. In that case, it might not need access to the city lot any longer.

For years, the society has longed for a new building that can provide enough space and more ideal conditions for the 7,000 to 8,000 works of art that are crammed into its current space, Crews said.

“Art work needs to be stored in temperature-controlled, humidity-controlled (space), and we don’t have that at the library,” he said.

He said he also believes the new building could serve both the community and the campus, given its potential location on the north edge of campus and the south edge of downtown Columbia.

Sasaki Associates identified the property as ideal for a society museum in its conceptual plan for redeveloping the southern half of downtown. That plan was put together for the city, MU and Stephens College in 2006.

“It’s a worthy project,” Crews said. "It will be a great addition to the downtown area."

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