Work on Tubman museum finally resumes

mstucka@macon.comJanuary 10, 2014 

Construction workers’ hands once wore away at primer on a stairwell railing, and in the nine years since construction stopped at the Tubman African American Museum, rust set in.

Now, hands are again rubbing on the railing as 23 construction workers resume work on the long-dormant building.

Museum Executive Director Andy Ambrose said the museum at last has the funding, and construction plans are in place to open the museum to the public in the spring of 2015.

“The construction funds are in hand,” Ambrose said Friday inside the skeletal interior of the building, where light from a 70-foot, glassed-in dome streams down.

On Friday, workers were cutting steel and installing equipment from scissor jacks to reach the high ceilings in the building, which had been little more than a shell since construction work last halted in 2005. The interior of the building showed it had aged well, even though parts of it are now more than a decade old.

“This building was built right,” Ambrose said.

At 49,000 square feet, the new building is far larger than the current museum on Walnut Street, which Ambrose said could display only a fifth of the Tubman’s collections.

Though the new museum building will be ready to open next year, Ambrose said, the building won’t be fully occupied. The museum continues to raise funds to grow into the full building and develop more rotating exhibits.

The Tubman opened in its current location, a former 8,500-square-foot nightclub, in 1985. Fundraising for the new building began in 1997, and construction started in 2002.

Ambrose told the Macon-Bibb County Urban Development Authority in August that design work was being completed, and interior construction could begin in November or December.

Ambrose said at the time that the new construction would cost about $5.5 million, while the museum has commitments of at least $6.2 million to complete the work.

Part of that money, $2.5 million, comes from a special purpose local option sales tax. That money is channeled to the Urban Development Authority, which became the owner of the building in deals involving the Tubman, the authority and the city of Macon. Legally, the authority has bought the Cherry Street museum shell, which so far has cost about $12.5 million and is now valued at about $9 million.

Other funding includes $1.5 million from the Peyton Anderson Foundation, $1 million from NewTown Macon, congressional appropriations of about $830,000 and a Woodruff Foundation grant of about $200,000.

Ambrose said Friday that the delays have brought some benefits. For example, more effective and energy-efficient lighting equipment for the museum’s displays are now available.

The new building will also allow the Tubman to run things not just bigger but better. It will have dedicated classroom space to help with educational programs, and a sweeping stairway could help the museum rent out the facility.

And the structure will also help bring together a blend of African-American art, history and culture that may be unmatched.

“It’ll be unlike any other museum in the area or possibly in the nation,” Ambrose said.

Telegraph archives were used in this report. Oby Brown contributed to this report.

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