History enthusiasts are relieved and pleased by a state Legislature appropriation last week of $38 million to build a new Museum of Mississippi History and a civil rights museum on state land just north of the William F. Winter Archives and History Building, 200 North Street.
But supporters of downtown development are trading high-fives, as well. They see visitors and their dollars injecting new vitality into the entire Central Business District. They also see developers having an easier time borrowing money for mixed-use retail and residential projects that have been languishing.
“Money goes where it is comfortable and having a lot of people in a confined area makes money comfortable,” said Ben Allen, president of Downtown Jackson Partners, a public-private organization created to foster development and business retention in the Central Business District.
Chattanooga, Tenn., and Birmingham, Ala., are among cities that have helped to bring new life to their downtowns by locating history museums in them, Allen noted. “Most states recognize the beauty of the synergy.”
Allen predicted the civil rights museum will become a “national treasure” and the Mississippi Museum of History a “state treasure.”
Private sector development professional Malcolm Shepherd said lenders will take note of the substantial state investment in the museums and say to themselves: “Wait a minute, there are some opportunities here.’”
The museums represent “a tremendous shot in the arm,” said Shepherd, development direct of Full Spectrum, a New York City development company that plans to start work soon on a $129-million garage and mixed-use project in the Old Capitol Green development district near the site of the future museums. As envisioned, combined developments by property owners in the development district are projected to exceed $1 billion.
“It would enhance us and contribute a lot to Old Capitol Green” by creating foot traffic into the district.
He said he also sees the museums providing a big boost to the nearby Farish Street Entertainment District planned by Watkins Development, the real estate investment company that restored the King Edward Hotel and the Standard Life Building.
The museums, Old Capitol Green and Farish Street will combine to provide “a new vitality,” Shepherd said.
A study by the Mississippi Development Authority projects that in its first year of
operation, the planned 112,300-square-foot Museum of Mississippi History alone will generate $19 million in visitor expenditures, brought in by about 200,000 heritage tourism visitors to downtown Jackson.
Supporters of the museums, meanwhile, are banking on seeing rapid progress on the twin projects. They have got a big anniversary planned and hope the museums will be part of it.
As Mississippi turns 200 in 2017, they want to tell the stories of the state’s distant past and more recent past through exhibits and displays in the adjacent museums.
“The pre-planning work will be starting as soon as possible,” said H.T. Holmes, director of the Mississippi Department of Archives and History, the agency responsible for the pre-planning.
Holmes said he expects the two museums can be opened in the bi-centennial year. At the least, he expects the state history museum to be finished and the exterior of the civil rights museum substantially completed.
Of the $38-million allocation, legislators earmarked $20 million for the state museum and $18 million for the civil rights museum. A parking garage, previously estimated to cost $7 million, has not been funded.
Some money can be saved on each of the projects by building a shared lobby, auditorium and other common areas, according to Holmes, who called the sharing an opportunity to achieve “significant” cost savings.
Further, additional exhibit space can be freed up in the civil rights museum through the exhibit storage space that will be available at the state museum next door, he said.
Supporters of the museums must raise money for the exhibits and displays within the museums.
While many of the exhibit items formerly displayed at the Mississippi Museum of History before its closing at mid-decade are in storage and can be returned to the new museum, the effort to acquire exhibit items for the civil rights museum must start from scratch, according to Holmes.
“It’s going to require a great deal of public support.”
The state intends to match financial contributions for the civil rights museum on a dollar-for-dollar basis, Holmes said.
The Department of Archives and History seldom makes direct purchases of exhibit items and will have to seek donations of artifacts to fill in gaps, he noted. “Purchases have never been a significant part of our of our collecting.”
The Old Capitol formerly housed the Mississippi Museum of History. Planning for a new home had already begun when Hurricane Katrina hit in fall 2005, extensively damaging the Old Capitol and some of the history museum’s artifacts.
The history museum’s artifacts remained in storage when the building reopened in 2009 as the Old Capitol Museum, where the history of the circa 1839 building is interpreted.
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