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City Council approves IAAM construction contracts

Hospitality and Tourism
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Construction on the International African American Museum is expected to start in the next few months, with a formal groundbreaking ceremony potentially scheduled for October. (Rendering/Provided)

Charleston City Council has approved the construction contracts for the International African American Museum, clearing the way for the museum to break ground on the former site of Gadsden’s Wharf.

The $60.2 million contracts passed unanimously, though Mayor John Tecklenburg recused himself because he serves on the museum’s board.

Former Charleston Mayor Joe Riley (from left); John Harvey, the manager of BP’s Cooper River facility; and International African American Museum President and CEO Michael Boulware Moore discuss plans for the museum. (Photo/International African American Museum)

BP donates $1 million
to International African American Museum

BP has donated $1 million to the International African American Museum to support the museum’s construction and programming.

The oil and gas company’s Cooper River Chemicals Plant in Berkeley County was built in 1978 on land that once housed two plantations on the Cooper River. The remnants of bricks and kilns can still be seen at one of the plantations, where enslaved Africans were once used for labor, according to a news release.

“BP is humbled and honored to be part of such an important project not only for Charleston but also for the world,” said John Harvey, manager of BP’s Cooper River facility, in the release. “We hope this donation will help the museum grow to become a premier attraction, research center and lasting memorial for generations to come.”

Michael Boulware Moore, president and CEO of the International African American Museum, said BP has told the museum that it wants to go beyond its financial donation.

“We look forward to working together to find a variety of ways to connect and collaborate,” Moore said in the release.

— Staff Report

President and CEO Michael Boulware Moore said the contracts are only for the shell of the museum; contracts for interior construction and curation will be presented to City Council later.

Moore also presented City Council with plans for the museum’s exterior; the museum’s landscape architect is Walter Hood, and Moore said the intention is to have a park outside the museum that is a separate experience.

The park will include a water feature commemorating the people who died during the Middle Passage, a commemoration of the hundreds who died in a warehouse at Gadsden’s Wharf and sweetgrass basket motifs throughout the space.

Several citizens asked the council to defer action on the contracts on Tuesday, citing concerns they have about how the museum will be curated, but Councilwoman Carol Jackson said a vote on the contracts didn’t preclude any future conversations that needed to be had.

“We’re going to take a ‘yes’ vote (on the contracts), but we don’t expect that’s going to be a smoothing-over of things that need to continue to be worked through,” she said.

The museum has been slowly ramping up its planning and fundraising efforts since former Mayor Joe Riley presented the idea for the museum in 2000; it reached its initial fundraising goal last year.

“What you have before you tonight is the construction of the most extraordinary museum to serve this community and our country,” Riley told City Council at Tuesday’s meeting.

The cost of the museum is split among the city of Charleston, Charleston County, the state of South Carolina and the museum’s private fundraising. Riley said the museum has raised enough money to fully fund the contracts that City Council approved.

City Council also honored Moore, who is leaving the museum at the beginning of August to return to the private sector, with a recognition of his service to the city of Charleston and to the museum. Tecklenburg pronounced July 16, 2019, as “Michael Boulware Moore Day” across the city.

Moore is the museum’s first CEO, a position he has held since 2016. He is the great-great-grandson of Robert Smalls, who escaped slavery and went on to become a congressman.

Moore said City Council’s proclamation was “such an unexpected and a great honor.” He said he plans to remain in the community after leaving the museum.

Construction on the International African American Museum is expected to begin in the next few months, with a formal groundbreaking ceremony potentially scheduled for October.

Reach Patrick Hoff at 843-849-3144.

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