Fundraising issues may stall Confederate museum in Appomattox

By Sarah Watson

Published: June 26, 2009

The Museum of the Confederacy definitely is coming to Appomattox, museum and town officials say, but it may take a little longer than first anticipated because of fundraising issues.

Thursday, the museum’s board of trustees voted to continue moving forward with plans to build an expansion site near where the Civil War ended.

The town of Appomattox has agreed to purchase a four-acre parcel near the intersection of U.S. 460 and Virginia 24 and lease the land to the museum. That deal has not closed, despite the town appropriating money in its fiscal year 2010 budget for the first year’s payments, said Town Manager Bart Van Nieuwenhuise. The museum wanted to be in a better financial position before moving ahead, he said.

Museum director and CEO S. Waite Rawls III said fundraising for large projects like the Appomattox site has been “extremely difficult” because of the current economic climate. “It’s taking us longer than we anticipated when we announced the plan a year and a half ago.”

Rawls expects construction will begin next spring, with an anticipated opening in late 2011. “We’re focused very much on Appomattox, getting it done, getting it done as quickly as we can, but it’s going to take us longer than anticipated,” he said.

Compounding the fundraising difficulty, Rawls said, is that designs have changed to increase the building size from 8,000 square feet to 10,600 square feet, thus making the $8 million project more expensive.

The museum already has spent more than $500,000 on architecture and exhibit designs, Rawls said. As organizers realized that a smaller building might not work for the type of displays the museum wanted, they decided to draw it larger.

“Instead of scaling it down, we said we wanted it to be first class, so we increased the size of the building and that has increased the budget, which has increased the challenge of fundraising,” Rawls said. “But we think that’s the right thing to do.”

Appomattox is one of three sites where the museum has plans to build additional campuses in an effort to expand the number of artifacts on public display. Plans for the other two sites, one near Fort Monroe and another near Fredericksburg, still are in preliminary stages as museum officials focus on the Appomattox site first, Rawls said.

There had been discussions on whether Appomattox County would purchase an adjoining land parcel to lease to the museum, but supervisors said last week they were not interested. The county already has allocated a $15,000 donation to the museum in its FY 2010 budget, said county clerk Vicki Phelps.

“Despite the fact that the county isn’t going to participate in the real estate purchase, they are assisting us and are very enthusiastic about us coming,” Rawls said.

Appomattox Mayor Paul Harvey said the town is “totally committed” to purchasing the property and already has allocated $350,000 to that purchase and additional aid. Harvey also said the final land deal may be different than what has been discussed publicly, but he did not know details.

“We are honored, privileged and excited about the museum coming here,” Harvey said. “Right now it’s just a matter of when the museum wants to get back to us and close the deal.”

©2009 Media General Communications Holdings, LLC.

On The Web:   www.newsadvance.com/lna/news/local/article/fundraising_issues_may_stall_confederate_museum_in_appomattox/17280/