The county had proposed to buy the historic building on LaFayette Road for $350,000 and then lease it to the city for the museum’s use. Under the proposal the museum would have relocated from its present home on Barnhardt Circle to the old post gym. The city would have been ultimately responsible for maintenance and operational costs, per the agreement. Museum representatives had countered that the museum – a non-profit organization – could pay these expenses by raising funds through a capital campaign and would generate revenue by hosting special events.
“None of us were confident that this (proposal) would go through,” museum executive director Chris McKeever said. “We got indications from two city council members that they would not support the proposal.”
The museum has been housed in a city-owned building since 1981, according to McKeever. The building must be made ADA-compliant, she said, referring to the American Disabilities Act. The museum director said it is her understanding the museum has a 99-year lease with the city. She said she has not seen the original lease agreement.
“We pay $1 in rent a year to the city,” she said. The museum pays utility costs and maintains the building, to include most repairs and painting, according to McKeever. She said the city has taken care of the building’s plumbing issues and provides trash service.
“The museum totally funds its own operations with no assistance from the city of Fort Oglethorpe,” McKeever said.
McKeever said the museum board would meet in May or June to discuss alternatives to the lease agreement the county offered Fort Oglethorpe.
“The first thing we need to do is we need to protect the original $150,000 historical SPLOST funding that was earmarked for the museum,” she said. “Our original plan was to add handicap restrooms to this building and redo our displays. There should be UV filters on all of our displays. This building is just not conducive to preserve the uniforms and the maps we have on display. We just want the county to know we are still very much willing to work to do wonderful things on behalf of the museum and historic preservation.”
As of Friday, April 13, museum representatives had planned to attend the Catoosa County Board of Commissoners meeting at 6 p.m. Tuesday, April 17, according to McKeever.
“We will bring a plan to them for approval and work from there,” she said.
The Downtown Development Authority placed the issue on its April 16 meeting agenda. Authority chair Jeff Epperson has previously spoken in favor of the county’s proposal and repeatedly urged the city to consider allowing the authority to take on the museum’s lease. Epperson said authority members planned to attend the county commission meeting as well.
“We have options. There are certainly things we would do as the DDA. It’s just a matter of if they’re willing to discuss it at this point,” Epperson said. “We would love for them (museum) to be here. We think it is important to the whole city. We’re just trying to help them stay in this area.”
The city appears to have closed the door on the museum’s proposed relocation.
City attorney Robert Stultz said city officials have not directed him to make a counter proposal to the county.
Stultz said he had previously attempted to contact the county attorney on April 8 to discuss the DDA’s possible role in any lease agreement made.
“I called Mr. (Skip) Patty on April 8, 2012. Mr. (Chad) Young was out of town. I asked him if the county would be willing to lease directly to the DDA. In a follow up letter, he informed me he would have to refer that question to the county commission.”