Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Dropping rent provision keeps museum bill alive

The Arizona House Appropriations Committee today approved SB1200, transferring the former Mining & Mineral Museum building to AZGS to create a new Mining, Mineral, and Natural Resources Educational Museum.   It also transfers $428,300 per year in funding from the Arizona Historical Society budget to AZGS to pay for the rent and salary of one curator.

The bill had been held due to amendments in the House and Senate that would have waived the $360,000 per year rent on the building for two years, with those funds to be used for restoration, maintenance, and operations.   However, waiving the rent charged to AZGS meant the State would have to find those funds elsewhere, and thus put a significant price tag on the bill.     To get the bill through the Committee, the sponsor, Sen. Gail Griffin agreed to removing the rent waivers, making it nominally revenue neutral.   The bill as it stands now, would provide funds to pay the rent and salary and benefits per year for one curator but nothing else.

There is also a report from last December estimating the cost of building upgrades at $2.1 million to reopen the facility for its new functions.  Those costs are not considered in the revenue neutral determination.

If signed into law, AZGS will be responsible for finding funds to develop exhibits for the now empty building, create the education program, stock a gift shop, hire gift shop staff and any other staff such as a museum director or fund raiser.   Supporters of the former Mining and Mineral Museum assured the committee that the gift shop will make the museum self-supporting and that no more paid staff are needed beyond that to make this a world class destination site for tourists.  

As the agency that will be responsible for creating something the Historical Society could not achieve with more staff and funding than we will be given, we are not so confident.   If assigned this task, AZGS will do the best we can with the resources we can find. But we need to temper expectations, especially from those who think a new museum can be operating in time for the opening of the school year in August-September, if we took possession in July.

The bill has to go to the full House for approval and then to a Senate-House conference committee to reconcile the different versions.

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