Now that Georgia Music Hall of Fame is closing, officials wonder ‘now what?’

pramati@macon.comMay 26, 2011 

he loss of the Georgia Music Hall of Fame might not sting so badly for Middle Georgia, officials said, if there was another tenant ready to step in and use the property.

As it stands now, however, Macon soon will have a 43,000-square-foot empty building in the heart of the city.

“It’s like knocking the front tooth out of a smile,” Macon Mayor Robert Reichert said Wednesday.

Twenty-four hours after the music hall’s authority voted 4-3 to close the facility to the public June 12, community leaders said they’re still reeling as they consider what to do next.

The building will revert to the State Properties Commission, which will inspect it and decide the best use for it. Pending the approval of the state Legislature, the building could house another state entity or be sold once its fair market value is determined.

Katy Pando, spokeswoman for the commission, said no one has inquired about moving into the building.

Local architect Gene Dunwody Jr., who designed the museum, said the building itself is well-built but doesn’t necessarily lend itself to a lot of uses.

“What we need to do is to brainstorm some uses for it,” he said. “Unfortunately, it was designed to be a museum. It was built for a low price, about $4 million I think, so (the state) has gotten a lot of bang for their buck.”

Dunwody said whatever the state decides to do with it, it would need to maintain the indoor temperature or face mildew and other air quality issues while it sits vacant.

Still, while the state ponders the building’s future, it’s Macon that has another empty property downtown.

“I’m just bewildered,” Reichert said. “After 24 hours, we’re still trying to get over the shellshock, frustration, disappointment and bewilderment (of the authority’s decision). We need to collectively ask for an audience with the governor. This board closed the music hall of fame, leaving us collectively with a vacant building in a very prominent and strategic place. We’re requesting they give every effort to locate a tenant and make good use of the building.”

Brian Robinson, spokesman for Gov. Nathan Deal, said in an e-mail Wednesday that Deal supports the authority’s decision and that he would leave it up to the State Properties Commission to find a new occupant for the building.

Meanwhile, local officials said the loss of the music hall likely will impact local tourism and the downtown economy.

Mike Ford, president and CEO of NewTown Macon, was part of the effort to keep the music hall in Macon. It was NewTown’s late proposal to provide $800,000 in funding to keep the museum operating in Macon for a year that the authority ultimately rejected Tuesday.

Ford said NewTown would focus its efforts on restoring the old Capricorn Records studio on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and opening it a year earlier than originally planned. There has been no date set for an opening.

In the interim, Ford said, NewTown is considering leasing a vacant property at 567 Cherry St. as a temporary home to sell souvenirs and display some items related to Capricorn’s history.

“It would be a bridge to the (Capricorn) building,” Ford said. “I think it will be successful. ... You can take the music hall of fame out of Macon, but you can’t take the music out of Macon. Otis Redding, Chuck Leavell, Grant’s Lounge, Capricorn -- it’s all a part of that.”

Andy Ambrose, director of the Tubman African American Museum, said the music hall’s closing would negatively impact all the downtown museums.

“I think it’s just such a devastating loss to the community and to Middle Georgia,” Ambrose said Tuesday. “Music is such an ingrained part of Macon’s history and identity. Many people don’t realize the economic impact it will have. People would come to the city because of Otis Redding or the Allman Brothers. (The music hall) found a way to tell their story. It’s going to be so much different without the music hall of fame.”

Monica Smith, president and CEO of the Macon-Bibb County Convention & Visitors Bureau, said Wednesday that despite the loss of the music hall, it wouldn’t stop the CVB from promoting the city’s music heritage.

“From the standpoint of community pride, it’s a huge loss,” Smith said. “But does it change our strategy? Not really. The music history and heritage here is so strong. We still have assets.”

Lisa Love, executive director of the music hall, said she’s working with local museums such as the Tubman and the Big House Museum to set up an arrangement that would keep some of the Macon-oriented items of the music hall’s collection in Macon.

“I’ve spent all day in talks with the Tubman, the Big House and others,” she said. “We’re making every effort to see that the artifacts that represent Macon’s musical heritage stay in Macon.”

Love, who originally was set to resign June 1, was asked by state officials to stay on until the museum closes permanently June 30. She said beginning June 13, she and her staff would supervise the transfer of about 30,000 artifacts, documents, photos and other parts of the collection out of the building.

As part of the contingency plan Love developed and the authority approved, the bulk of the collection would be transferred to the University of Georgia’s Special Collections Library in Athens. Collections that pertain to jazz, swing, early country and the work of Johnny Mercer will be shipped to the special collections and archives at the Georgia State University Library in Atlanta, while collections pertaining to sacred harp and Southern gospel music will go to the special collections at Ingram Library at the University of West Georgia in Carrollton.

Some items on loan to the museum will be returned to their owners, Love said. That process has already begun.

Keith Bennett said he is in the process of retrieving items belong to his wife, Cindy Wilson of the B-52s, and her late brother, Ricky Wilson. Cindy Wilson’s dress that she wore on the album cover “Whammy” and Ricky Wilson’s guitar are among the items they are reclaiming. He said they are taking the items because they don’t know who will be supervising the collection in the future.

“The issue (of the museum closing) has been surfacing for a long time,” Bennett said. “There’s been an upheaval, and we don’t want something to happen. Lisa (Love) has done a good job taking care of it, but looking at it in the interim, we want to protect the stuff. ... It’s sad. I’m from Macon, and I thought it was great the museum was there.”

To contact writer Phillip Ramati, call 744-4334.

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