Wednesday, March 5, 2008
Animosity continues to rage between advocates of the city of Jackson and friends of Tougaloo College over the proposed location of a National Civil Rights Museum with advocates of a downtown location saying that neither the commission nor the consultants tasked with choosing a location has played fair during the process.
A report by Murfreesboro, Tenn., consulting firm LaPaglia & Associates, leaked to the press by advocates for the Jackson site, reveals that Jackson took third place behind the private college in its February recommendation. Pro-Jackson advocates question how Jackson locations took up a majority of slots in the Top 10 list of prospective locations last November, and then tumbled behind Tougaloo, which initially ranked No. 10 in LaPaglia & Associates' final recommendation.
Jackson advocates say many members of the museum commission, appointed by Gov. Haley Barbour in 2006, are directly connected to the college, including commission co-chairman Reuben Anderson, who graduated from the college and has served on its board. Other Tougaloo graduates on the commission include current Tougaloo President Beverly Hogan, who sits on the commission's location committee, and Leroy Walker, who is currently the Tougaloo board of trustees chairman.
Anderson told the Jackson Free Press that there was no restriction on communication between commission members and LaPaglia & Associates, though LaPaglia & Associates President Pete LaPaglia later said his company had no communication with committee or commission members.
"The five final locations that we were given to look at by the commission were done in an independent, unbiased and balanced approach," LaPaglia said.
The National Civil Rights Museum Commission's Finance Committee raised $500,000 in private donations to finance the report. The state Legislature approved another $500,000 for the design of the museum, but those public funds will not be touched until a plan is in place, according to National Civil Rights Museum Commission Co-chairman Charles Pickering, the former judge.
The report outlined a number of reasons for Tougaloo's selection, namely the pristine location, quick access to I-55, availability of space and demography.
The same report wrote off the proposed Farish Street location, citing limited space, urban blight, aging infrastructure and an unproved commitment by the city to renovate or tear down nearby dilapidated property.
The report also recorded that the "site and district (were) perceived as threatening to (the) general public," and that patrons would have little "reason to venture (into it) with the exception of the existing Smith Robertson Museum located one-fourth mile away."
LaPaglia & Associates may also be taking into account the amount of patronage in downtown tourist attractions in comparison to museums like the Mississippi Agriculture and Forestry Museum and the Mississippi Museum of Natural Science, both of which outstrip the patronage of downtown tourist exhibits like the Manship House Museum, the Governor's Mansion, the Mississippi Museum of Art and the Smith Robertson Museum and Cultural Center by a wide margin according to the Official Museum Directory of 2007.
"We were looking for the best places to locate a national institution that would succeed," LaPaglia said.
The consultants' earlier favorite choice was at the site of the Smith-Wills stadium on Lakeland Drive, which had no connection whatsoever with the Civil Rights Movement.
Downtown Jackson Partners President Ben Allen argues that the Jackson Zoological Park, which also sits in an aging neighborhood long abandoned by the affluent, is second only to the Vicksburg National Military Park in terms of statewide tourism.
"We outpace the Museum of Natural Science in terms of patronage by about 50,000 every year," said Jackson Zoological Park Marketing and Public Relations Director Christopher Mims.
Allen said if the site had been considered six years from now, LaPaglia & Associates might have come to a different conclusion.
"We've got more than $700 million in projects going on. (If) all the construction and projects going on downtown were complete, they wouldn't have given this a second thought," Allen said. "We'll have so many things within walking distance of the museum, they're really missing out."
Downtown Jackson Partners, which had favored the site of Freelon's on Mill Street near Farish, spent nearly $30,000 compiling data and proposals to sell the downtown location, even though the Mill Street location did not fall under the DJP's area of influence.
Advocates of a downtown museum, including City Council President and civil rights veteran Leslie McLemore and local rapper and activist Kamikaze, are chafing at the report claiming community enthusiasm for downtown fell short of expectations, claiming that the community revealed "limited observable African American community or civil rights leader advocacy for this site."
Allen said the consultants had discouraged community input, and remains disgruntled that the company had asked him to keep the project quiet, depriving him of the chance to allow city public to show its raw enthusiasm for the museum.
McLemore said he felt cheated because Tougaloo, comparatively, had been allowed to show local support through vociferous advocates of the Tougaloo location. He made this point in a guest column he submitted to The Clarion-Ledger on Feb. 24, but the paper deleted that portion before publication.
"[W]hen the consultants were going to visit the downtown site, we were instructed not to bring a group of proponents to the presentation. We could easily have produced a chorus of advocates for downtown if allowed," wrote McLemore, a Jackson State University political science professor and a co-founder of the Fannie Lou Hamer National Institute on Citizenship and Democracy.
The National Civil Rights Museum Commission will vote on the location March 11 and will take LaPaglia & Associates' recommendation under consideration. The location committee is recommending to the greater commission that the LaPaglia & Associates report be approved.
LaPaglia's Web site showcases its "featured projects": the BlueGrass International Music Museum, the Booth Western Art Museum, the National Civil War Museum, the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum, the Louisville Slugger Museum and the Ink & Blood Exhibit.
Commission members voted to approve the contract with LaPaglia & Associates, though members say the vote came to them from their executive committee in the form of a simple up or down vote, with no option beyond LaPaglia.
Commission Co-Chairman Charles Pickering told The Clarion-Ledger that a "pristine" location would be an asset to the museum, but later told the Jackson Free Press that his statement should not be interpreted as any kind of endorsement.
Allen said the consultants had discouraged community input, and remains disgruntled that the company had asked him to keep the project quiet, depriving him of the chance to allow city public to show its raw enthusiasm for the museum. McLemore said he felt cheated because Tougaloo, comparatively, had been allowed to show local support through vociferous advocates of the Tougaloo location. He made this point in a guest column he submitted to The Clarion-Ledger on Feb. 24, but the paper deleted that portion before publication. Just wait and see... when all the dust settles you will see that Tougaloo was not playing with the same deck of cards that Jackson was told to play with! Can you say "stacked deck?"
From someone who did not go to Tougaloo and lives near downtown, I would like to see a the Civil Rights Museum near down town to add to the draw. I do not have a horse in this race, but I do not like the fact that Tougaloo moved up so fast, only according to media reports... Tougaloo is a beautiful campus and the new chapel is breath taking. I do not wish to push it aside in its place in civil rights history, but I want Jackson downtown to have museums and the governor's mansion and the art museum and the planeterium and everything near the hear of Jackson so soon more development will happen. I am selfish and I want this to be an additional attraction to downtown to add to Jackson. Near county line is doing OK. I understand the arguments on both sides, and both sides are correct that they both deserve the museum, but downtown NEEDS it more AGamma627 AGamma627
I think someone needs to ask Pres. Hogan some very pointed questions. The fact that she is ducking the media shows that she did something behind the scenes to get Tougaloo selected.
Well Pike..I hear that there's some startling info that may come out real soon to that effect. Something that may refute the commissions statements that Tougaloo folks did no lobbying. And the CL once again shows their ''aggression'' on the issue by sinking the story of the council's resolution to a brief on 2B!!! WTF??? Pehaps MORE folks would know how serious this issue is if they would properly keep this issue front page or at least front page metro section..Nobody sees those damn briefs and thus no one knows how vehemently most folks oppose that tougaloo site.
Cool, that is good to hear!