It took more than two years for the City of Aberdeen to settle its insurance claim for the Armory Building fire that destroyed the Aberdeen Museum of History in June of 2018.
In a report at the last City Council meeting, Parks and Recreation Director Stacie Barnum said the city had “reached an agreement for a lump sum payment of $23 million,” after a total deductible of $750,000. The claim was for the contents of the building and the building itself.
Now the city is tasked with finding a new location for the museum and its contents.
“I want to get the museum up and running, and I want to involve the museum with the Gateway Center, as well as finding another location for a workshop and storage space,” said Mayor Pete Schave. “At this point, that is pretty much where it’s at. Now we have to put together a plan with the City Council and staff and go forward.”
The Gateway Center has been in the works for years and would serve as a multi-use facility to include visitor information, meeting space and office space. It would be situated at East Wishkah Street and Fuller Way, the former location of the old Pourhouse Tavern and Selmer’s Building, demolished late in 2018.
“We want to work the museum in with the Gateway building,” said Schave. “There’s quite a bit of square footage available there.”
Schave said the city had hoped to get some work going on the Gateway site “around this time this year,” but delays related mostly to the COVID-19 pandemic have set it back. However, he said the City Council is holding a workshop at 6 p.m. this evening to go over the final design and some other details “to move into the final stages,” including figuring out the total cost of construction — and figuring out how to pay for it.
Last year, the cost estimate for the Gateway Center was around $15 million. Consultants said funding could potentially come from a mix of sources, including the state capital budget, the Department of Commerce, the city, tax credits and private donors and businesses.
There has been quite a bit of discussion about using the Gateway Center as a museum site since the fire, but a final decision is still a ways off. Schave said the the city is looking at creating a committee to narrow down possibilities for a location, with input from the city’s museum board.
“There has been no shortage of people making suggestions” since the insurance settlement was announced, said museum board member John Shaw, saying ultimately it will be city staff and finally the City Council making a final determination.
The old Morck Hotel is also a possibility. Currently, Forterra is looking at the possible rehabilitation of the building for multiple uses.
“We’ve had this discussion by the museum board the past two years on some form of engagement at the Gateway and some of the Morck Hotel redevelopment,” said Shaw. “While those two large variables are still in play, we still need to take care of and house the collection to do the remaining work and get back into business.”
The Boeing building, situated under the north end of the north- and southbound overpasses to the South Aberdeen Bridge, has been looked at as a museum location — not specifically for public display — but more of the workshop and storage space Schave mentioned earlier.
“I have found that the discussion of the Boeing building has been misunderstood,” said Shaw. “It hasn’t been suggested as the “museum,” it has been suggested as a working hub location to store the collection,” and as a work space for museum staff and volunteers to manage the collection.
“The Boeing Building came up as a nice option, but the price is too high,” added Schave. The City Council recently approved the hiring of “a qualified commercial real estate appraiser to perform an appraisal” on the building, to look into the possibility “a little deeper,” said Schave.
After a feasibility study into the Boeing Building was presented to the museum board, Schave and the City Council, the board “would like to begin the process for a potential real estate purchase,” read the report to the council from Barnum.
“If we were able to get the Boeing building and work on it so that it would be made into a storage area as well as a workshop, we probably wouldn’t be able to financially get it to the level of having the public in there,” said Schave.
Shaw said the Boeing Building is “what we’re looking at for a long-term commitment and also restores a historic building within the historic downtown district, and there’s a lot of talk about saving buildings and making a commitment to the downtown historical district.”
Currently the city is renting a storage and workshop space for the collection on Port Industrial Road.
“Right now we’re paying like $4,000 a month for a storage area, and we could own our own building for that kind of money,” said Schave. “That is the goal, to get out of paying rent and paying on our own building.”