Georgia Music Hall of Fame to stay open through June

The Georgia Music Hall of Fame will be staying open at least through the end of the fiscal year.

The museum’s authority board decided Wednesday morning to approve an amended budget that will keep the hall of fame operating through June 30, 2010.

“With everything achieved to this point, I think there’s the opportunity to keep the hall of fame in Macon and for it to be sustainable,” said Jim Gillis, chairman of the authority board.

There was a possibility the authority would decide to close the museum Dec. 31 after issuing a challenge in July that the museum had to overcome a projected $225,000 deficit in its operations.

But Lisa Love, executive director of the music hall, said the museum cut its projected expenses by about $127,000 and had received significant financial contributions from a variety of sources to further close the gap.

Several elected officials, including state Sen. Robert Brown, Reps. Allen Peake and David Lucas, Macon Mayor Robert Reichert and Bibb County Commission Chairman Sam Hart, addressed the board, showing the commitment lawmakers have made to keep the museum operating in Macon.

The local delegation to the General Assembly has proposed using a portion of the hotel/motel tax to fund the music hall, the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame and the Douglass Theatre. That measure will be voted on when the General Assembly convenes early next year.

“It’s good news,” said Peake, R-Macon, after the board unanimously decided to keep the museum operating in 2010. “I’ve said before, it’s about momentum. Getting the hotel/motel tax, the united support of the delegation, it keeps the train running. ... In this environment, money is always going to be an issue. ... The (General Assembly’s) leadership said it wanted to see something from Macon, and we’re going to hold the leadership to their word.”

Love said she reduced the projected operating budget from $1.015 million for the current fiscal year to $888,000. The staff has been reduced from nine full-time employees to three full-time (including Love), plus seven part-time employees. In addition, about $75,000 planned for improvements to the museums has been placed on hold.

“Today was an affirmation for the museum and Macon, Ga.,” Love said after the meeting. “It’s also a public acknowledgement about how many people have supported the museum. I think it’s incredibly important for our elected officials to continue to publicly demonstrate their support for the music and sports halls of fame.”

Love told the board that despite the economic recession and reports the museum wouldn’t be staying open in Macon as well as rumors of it moving to Atlanta, significant money was raised to keeping the museum operating here.

Among the donations were $50,000 from the Peyton Anderson Foundation, $20,000 from the Knight Foundation/Community Foundation of Central Georgia, $25,000 from the Macon-Bibb County Convention & Visitors Bureau for a billboard on Interstate 75, $5,000 from a foundation set up by hall of fame inductee Bill Lowery for each of the next 10 years and $5,000 from Otis Redding’s Big ‘O’ Foundation for its singer/songwriter camp.

The museum also received $5,000 from this year’s Bragg Jam Festival, while area musicians in Macon and Columbus raised a combined $3,400 with benefit shows. The hall of fame also is the beneficiary of this weekend’s Fly South Festival at Luther Williams Field.

Lucas, D-Macon, told the board that many contributions over the years, both financial and in artifacts donated to the music hall, were made under the assumption the museum would continue to operate in Macon. He also said not every attraction should be located in Atlanta.

In August, Fulton County Commissioner Robb Pitts had proposed moving the museum to Atlanta on the heels of an announcement by members of the local delegation about using part of the hotel/motel tax for the museums.

The hotel/motel tax, if approved by the legislature, is expected to generate about $130,000 for each of the three entities that would receive funds. But that money wouldn’t start coming in until 2011, Love said.

Gillis also proposed putting together a committee that would create a $15 million endowment fund that would be designed to make the museum less reliant on state funds in the future.

He said other museums around the country use such endowments and the monetary amount is relatively small when compared to a proposed $125 million civil rights museum and $50 million college sports hall of fame that have been proposed for the Atlanta area.

“Given the current financial situation in the state of Georgia, (the music hall) has already been cut about 30 percent over the last few years and will probably see more cuts,” Gillis told the board. “We have an obligation to try to keep the museum open in Macon. ... In my opinion, a $15 million endowment will ensure the future of this building in Macon.”

Lucas said Wednesday’s meeting was a step in the right direction for the future of the hall of fame.

“You can’t call it a victory until we get closer to that $15 million,” he said.

Love said the museum will try to find more sources of funding.

“I think we’re in the same situation as so many nonprofits,” she said. “We’re cutting costs and finding new sources of funding. Museums are vital to the quality of life. This is a challenge we are taking on. ... I want Macon, Ga., to take ownership of this museum in everything we do — in our funding, our programs and our exhibits.”

To contact writer Phillip Ramati, call 744-4334.