Music hall plan: Group hopes to turn old Capricorn into museum, working studio

As the four cities vying for the Georgia Music Hall of Fame made their pitches Friday, Macon added a new twist to its proposal.

Mike Ford, president and CEO of NewTown Macon, told the museum’s authority that NewTown expects to buy the old Capricorn Studios property on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and turn it into a museum and working recording studio.

With the property just two blocks from the music hall, Ford said it should enhance the ability to expand the museum’s current program.

“We’re going to bring it back,” said Ford, who also is a member of Halls of Fame Inc., the local public-private partnership that’s seeking to keep the music hall in Macon.

Halls of Fame Inc. wanted to emphasize every selling point it could about Middle Georgia in what turned out to be a very competitive process Friday that also included pitches from the three other bidders -- Athens, Dunwoody and Woodstock.

Mike Dyer, chairman of Halls of Fame Inc., gave the shortest presentation of the day, noting other Middle Georgia attractions such as the Ocmulgee National Monument in Macon and the Museum of Aviation at Robins Air Force Base. He also pointed out that Macon and Bibb County have committed $500,000 in funding over the next three years. Combined with funding from the local hotel/motel tax and grants from foundations, the Macon plan predicts a small operating profit in its first year and looks to be self-sustaining after five years.

Dunwoody officials were the first to make a presentation Friday morning, followed by pitches from Athens and Woodstock. Macon’s presentation closed out the session.

Some board members, who are grading each city in the process, wanted to tally the results of their score sheets immediately after Friday’s presentations, but the authority’s evaluation board chairman, Robert Highsmith, wanted to give two absent board members time to turn in their score sheets.

Board members will turn in their evaluations by the end of business Tuesday, and the authority will convene via conference call Wednesday at 2 p.m. to make a decision.

The authority must submit to the state by April 30 its choice of which city should be awarded the museum.

Board member Rob Gibson discussed with board members the possibility of not recommending any of the cities. Thursday, he sent an e-mail to other board members, saying he didn’t think any of the cities submitted a concept that would adequately provide enough long-term stabilization to meet the museum’s needs. He noted the cities that made proposals had just 75 days to put their plans together.

After Friday’s meeting, Gibson said he hasn’t made up his mind whether he will support any of the proposals.

“It would be possible that we might not come to a consensus (on Wednesday), but I think that is a long shot,” he said.

Mercer University Chancellor Kirby Godsey, another authority member, said that by not choosing any of the four cities, the board effectively would be shutting down the music hall once its state funding ends June 30. The state began the request for proposal process in September in order to find a Georgia community willing to take over the museum’s operational costs. The state has said it no longer will subsidize the music or sports halls.

Dahlonega, a fifth city once in the running, dropped out of the process last week when officials there couldn’t guarantee a funding source for a new performance arena, a key part to its proposal.

Funding issues for the other four cities provided a major part of the questions board members had for officials.

Dunwoody officials kicked off Friday’s presentations.

Danny Ross, chairman for Dunwoody Music Conservancy Inc., emphasized his board members’ experience raising money, including one member who served as a key marketer for the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta.

The Dunwoody plan is notable for its use of 10,000 square feet of space in Perimeter Mall that would house the museum for three years until a permanent, 23,000-square-foot space could be built on 5 acres of space donated by the Spruill Center for Performing Arts.

Ross said the mall receives 50,000 visitors a day, and even just a fraction of those visitors would be more than enough to sustain the museum.

His plan also calls for much more interactive exhibits that could travel around the state. He noted the city is within a 30-minute drive of metropolitan Atlanta and can be accessed through MARTA, Atlanta’s public train system.

Athens provided the most “out-of-the-box” approach to its proposal, said Matt Forshee, president and CEO of the Athens Economic Development Center. Though the state’s request for proposal included a mandatory 10,000-square-foot space to house the museum, Athens elected to forego that requirement with an almost completely interactive concept.

Forshee said Athens plans to ship part of the museum’s collection to accredited museums in other parts of the state and rotate it regularly. In addition, officials plan to digitize the entire collection to give people across the country access to it.

Forshee said it’s a matter of changing a model that is failing and turning it on its head.

“The current model is broken,” he said. “It’s going to take a lot of thought from the board’s perspective.”

Forshee said that by taking the physical building out of the equation, it would significantly lower operating costs.

Woodstock Mayor Donnie Henriques brought with him the largest contingent of officials to the presentation. In the plan he outlined, the music hall would be the centerpiece of downtown Woodstock and would include an amphitheater which will soon begin construction thanks to a $2.5 million special purpose local option sales tax, whether the city gets the museum or not. If it does win out, Woodstock would house the building in an adjacent retail property that would be converted and refurbished into a 17,000 square-foot museum.

Woodstock would turn the museum into a city department and get additional revenue from a tax allocation district it has set up, as well as income from a hotel/motel tax.

Officials included a letter of support from state Senate Majority Leader Chip Rogers, who sits on the committee that oversees the music hall, and emphasized Woodstock would enter a partnership with Kennesaw State University to help promote and preserve the museum’s collection. Kennesaw State has the largest music program in Georgia, officials said.

After the meeting, Highsmith said he would need time to evaluate all the presentations.

“It went as expected,” he said. “We had four good proposals. There was a lot of passion. ... We have a much clearer picture now. But I need a chance to reflect on it. It was very interesting, especially to see the university involvement with some of the proposals.”