Decision must be made soon on new Kansas African American Museum, leaders say

03/05/2014 5:59 PM

03/06/2014 8:43 AM

Plans to build a new Kansas African American Museum are still on the table, but details about cost and fundraising efforts haven’t been finalized, museum leaders said.

Leadership for years has considered moving the museum from its nearly century-old building at 601 N. Water to the museum district along the Arkansas River.

The city essentially donated some land in the district to the museum. But the lease – the museum pays the city $1 yearly for the 1.2 acres – expires Dec. 13.

If the museum hasn’t started construction by that date, the land will go back to the city.

“Some decision has to be made fairly quickly to determine if we have the ability to do something,” said Lee Williams, who has been the museum’s board president for about two months.

The museum first leased the land from the city in December 2005, with the understanding work would begin by the end of 2011. But the museum renegotiated that lease in December 2011 to set the present deadline.

Whether the museum will need to request an extension will be part of a decision that likely will come in the next few months, Williams said.

The museum’s board originally proposed a $29.5 million plan for the new museum. But in 2011, museum officials put the price tag at between $8 million and $12 million.

A current cost projection hasn’t been determined, Williams said. And although the museum has engaged in various fundraising efforts, including golf tournaments, fundraising that specifically targets a new building is still being worked out, she said.

“This will be addressed sooner than later,” Williams said.

John Philbrick, the city’s real estate administrator, said the land set aside for the museum is part of 7.8 acres purchased from Westar Energy in 2004. The site is on riverfront property near Exploration Place in the 700 block of West Central.

The lease’s deadline “hasn’t been on my radar,” Philbrick said. “I haven’t had anyone else express interest in (the land).”

Lavonta Williams, a board member who is not related to the board’s president, is determined to make a new museum happen.

“We have to build a museum,” said Williams, a City Council member. “We have to move from that location. The building we have now has served its purpose, but it’s no longer adequate.”

The museum is in the former Calvary Baptist Church, which was built in 1917. It is on the National Register of Historic Places and one of the few surviving buildings from Wichita’s black business district.

But the building’s space is no longer sufficient and parking is limited because it sits next to the Sedgwick County Jail, Lavonta Williams said.

The museum also needs a building with better temperature control to protect the artifacts – something that is not available in the current building, she added.

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