MARCO ISLAND — Marco Island Historical Society member Craig Woodward made a proposition Monday night to prevent the opening of an empty museum on Marco this February.
He proposed Marco come up with $350,000 as an incentive for Collier County to match those dollars and prevent the opening of a new $4.5 million museum without any exhibits — and City Council agreed.
The historical society raised $4.5 million to build the new Marco Island Historical Museum on Heathwood Drive and Collier County entered into an agreement to fund the exhibits for the museum, which is to have its grand opening Feb. 4. Museum officials have estimated that a full museum of exhibits would cost about $1.5 million.
During county budgeting, there was not enough money to allocate anything to the museum other than the $100,000 already committed from the Tourist Development Council.
Collier County Museum Director Ron Jamro and Collier County Commissioner Donna Fiala were committed to finding some money in the 2010 budget to ensure the museum didn’t open empty.
Woodward said Monday that about $440,000 was available in the county budget through a combination of items, including savings the county realized from park and public garden construction.
Fiala suggested that commissioners might be more attracted to giving the museum some of that money if they saw Marco commit to some of the expense as well. So, Woodward proposed council write a letter of intent to match up to $350,000 to help pay for exhibits.
“They’ve seen Marco really do well,” Woodward said of the challenge in convincing county officials to allocate more to the Island.
He said with Marco getting federal stimulus money for the Judge S.S. Jolley Bridge, as well as county-funded improvements on and near Marco, totaling tens of millions of dollars, the perception was that Marco was doing just fine.
“We need to send a message to the county that opening an empty museum here on Marco is not in the Island’s interest,” Woodward said.
City Council agreed in a 5-1 vote to write a letter of intent to the county that Marco will spend up to $350,000 if the county will match the expense.
Marco’s money comes from the sale of an easement to Lee County Electric Cooperative, City Manager Steve Thompson reported.
Fay Biles, who as President of the Marco Island Taxpayers’ Association advocated a refund of the LCEC money to taxpayers, said as a resident, giving the museum the money was the next best thing.
The matching-fund proposal will likely be considered by county commissioners Dec. 15.
Woodward said he has the support of one commissioner, Fiala, and hopes to garner the support of at least two more.
City Councilman Jerry Gibson was adamantly opposed to the agreement backhanding his microphone on the dais as he exclaimed: “They (the county) left us holding the bag again...”
Gibson regained composure and said “sorry, I’m just a little frustrated with the county.”
“You can’t be anymore frustrated than we are,” Woodward replied.
After the meeting, Gibson explained his vote further. “I think it’s a disgrace that the county could make a commitment and then totally turn its back on Marco.”
As for the land the county donated to the museum, Gibson said, “big deal they’re giving it back to the people it belonged to.”
Woodward said he thought of the money as a stimulus plan because museums will attract tourism and boost restaurant and other business sales in the area.
Several members of the community stood up in support of the museum Monday, of which capital campaign co-chairs Bill Perdichizzi and Betsy Perdichizzi were included.
“I think the museum would be a magnificent diamond in the middle of Marco. Our diamond is in the rough until something happens,” said Vice Chairman Frank Recker, who served as chairman in Rob Popoff’s absence Monday.