Marco’s new museum, once set to open in February, looks to open empty, or late, as funding for the exhibits remains questionable.
Despite pleas for money, Collier County commissioners couldn’t commit to a $350,000 contribution to fund exhibits for the Marco Island Historical Museum— at least not yet.
Collier County Commission Chairwoman Donna Fiala said she remains optimistic.
“I got a lot of positive response that once it’s on the regular agenda and it’s properly advertised, we’ll get the support.”
Commissioners’ greatest concern was that Marco’s bid for funding at Tuesday’s meeting was not advertised. The issue was raised by Fiala during a budget presentation.
That made Commissioner Fred Coyle nervous.
“This was only a budget report,” Coyle said.
Fiala said she hopes to see the issue on the next meeting agenda, scheduled Jan. 12.
“In the meantime, staff has been directed to bring back more analysis of the cost of the exhibits; how much it will cost to operate and maintain the museum; and to explore other funding opportunities including grants,” said county spokesman John Torre.
County Manager Leo Ochs expressed his concerns Tuesday about unfunded mandates handed down from Tallahassee and warned commissioners that the county’s take of state revenue-sharing would probably be less than it is now.
Commissioner Frank Halas said the county has so many financial obligations and issues on its plate that he’d prefer to put any money into reserves.
Museum officials have estimated exhibits for the museum would cost about $1.5 million, but said the museum could successfully open with about half of that.
The Marco City Council has pledged $350,000 for exhibits and museum officials had hoped for another $350,000 from the county. Along with $100,000 from the Tourist Development Council, museum officials hoped that $800,000 would be enough for a strong opening.
Marco Island’s Historical Society raised $4.5 million to build the museum on Heathwood Drive.
Marco City Council made a proposition to the county Dec. 7, stating that the city would spend up to $350,000 to purchase museum exhibits if Collier County chose to match their contribution.
During county budgeting, there was not enough money to allocate anything to the museum other than the $100,000 already committed from the TDC.
Collier County Museum Director Ron Jamro and Fiala say they are committed to finding some money in the 2010 budget to ensure the museum didn’t open empty.
There is $3 million left in the county budget due to several projects coming in under budget, Fiala reported.
“With the economy the way it is, things are getting done faster and cheaper... I don’t know if it will be a slam dunk, but I think understanding that we’re not looking for new money or reoccurring expenses every year, we’re not asking the taxpayers’ for any more money, I feel there is no reason whey we can’t meet the request.”
Bill Perdichizzi of the Marco Island Historical Society and capital campaign co-chair for the museum is also holding out hope.
“The possibility of getting the matching funds is not dead, but it certainly is going to delay the opening of the museum for public appreciation,” Perdichizzi said.
Perdichizzi said the grand opening scheduled Feb. 4 is more likely to be dubbed a “sneak peak” of what’s to come.
If the commissioners approve the expense in January, there likely won’t be enough time to purchase and organize the exhibits. If the commission doesn’t offer any more money: “It will be pretty close to an opening of an empty museum,” Perdichizzi said.
History buffs don’t want to see that happen.
“I’m not from Marco Island,” said Nancy Webster, a guide at Palm Cottage. “... But I volunteer at all four museums. History matters to me. We have an opportunity to tell our stories to tourists. We need to find the money and get started now. I’m asking all of you to step into history with us and make it happen.”
It’s not just a Marco issue, agreed Fiala.
“This goes way beyond the boundaries of Marco Island. It’s going to be the largest museum, the most complete museum in our entire (Collier County) museum system.”