Macon children’s museum closing for good

Staff reportJanuary 30, 2014 

The Georgia Children’s Museum, once a component of revitalization efforts in downtown Macon, is closing for good Friday.

The museum’s executive director, Mary Cay McCullough, said Thursday, “It is what it is. We’re pleased with what we’ve done in the community, and we’re hoping that we’re ending on a positive note.”

The museum, at the corner of Cherry Street and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, opened in 2005. About a year ago, its operators sold the building housing the museum, a 34,000-square-foot former Heilig-Meyers furniture store, to a developer. Loft apartments are being built.

The museum, though, had planned to continue operating on the ground floor. The building’s sale was expected to give the museum better financial footing.

“We are not a community, I don’t think, that is large enough to fully support all of the wonderful organizations that are here. Everybody has a great mission and everybody does viable work, but there’s only so many pieces of the pie,” McCullough said.

One of those pieces, the new Tubman African American Museum, is right down the street. Work began again on the new museum this month, thanks in part to a $2.5 million infusion from sales tax revenue. The Georgia Sports Hall of Fame is also nearby.

“We have a lot of expenses,” McCullough said. “We sold the building last year and had a year lease, hoping to build momentum to really make a good go of it. And we just don’t have the funding or the support to expand the exhibits the way we need to to keep things fresh and new.”

Over the years, there were periods in which the museum was closed to the general public for months at a time, available only by appointment for field trips and large groups.

McCullough said the museum’s lease was up, and about a week ago its leaders decided “that this is probably the right time to make the break.”

The museum’s nonprofit corporate entity, Mid-State Children’s Challenge Projects Inc., bought the six-floor building in 1998 for $425,000.

Financial dilemmas and an administrative flight caused the museum to scale back in spring 2007. AmeriCorps, a federally funded community service program, pulled its funding from the museum amid an investigation of bookkeeping issues. The United Way, a second sponsor, severed ties shortly afterward.

The museum’s founder and former director, Tom Glennon, departed, and the museum was left with little in the way of a budget.

Museum officials said the only tax dollars the museum had received in 2010 and 2011 was $25,000 each year from the city of Macon. In exchange, the museum, which had a pair of full-time employees and three part-timers, offered free admission for 16 hours a month to city residents. Otherwise, the museum was privately funded.

“I’m a big supporter of downtown,” McCullough said. “I like to see downtown coming along. I think we were there in the very beginning of the upturn, and I think we just weren’t able to weather the economic downturn that hit us all.”

Information from Telegraph archives was used in this report.

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