Museum issue boils down to political will

Three years after the armory fire displaced the Aberdeen Museum of History on East Third Street, the city of Aberdeen appears to be no closer to finding a new home for the exhibition.

And it’s not because of money. That issue was seemingly resolved when the city received a $22 million armory fire insurance settlement a little more than two years after the blaze.

So what’s the hold up? As The Daily World reported last week, the Aberdeen museum board and Mayor Pete Schave are not seeing “eye-to-eye when it comes to the future of the Aberdeen Museum of History.”

Apparently, the mayor has more pressing plans for the money, including the curious decision to help commit $7 million toward the construction of the Gateway Center.

The center, if built, would be located on a plot of land near the Wishkah Bridge with the hope of attracting corporations to utilize the space for a variety of events. Seems like a reach, but history has shown that big piles of unencumbered cash have a way of doing that to folks.

To his credit, the mayor has been upfront about his feelings on the museum.

“The mayor informed the board that the museum is not a priority for him,” said Aberdeen City Council museum board liaison Tawni Andrews at the July 6 meeting of the board.

According to the minutes of that meeting, and comments from board members afterward, Schave said the board had not met any of the goals set before them.

He also told The Daily World that the “museum board has not accomplished any of the basics they set out in their goals.”

The museum board was formed when Mayor Erik Larson was in office. By city ordinance, museum board duties are, in short, to develop plans and programs for the preservation and recognition of the city’s history “including the maintenance and display of city property transferred to the care and custody of the board.”

Now, it’s not that big of a stretch to think the museum’s limbo-like status is the byproduct of different political regimes, if you will. But with the cash and a lot of vacant buildings and land around this old fishing and logging town, including that piece of property on the other side of the Wishkah Bridge, it shouldn’t be that hard to settle on a location.

“I’ve always imagined that when it came time to acquire the new museum building that the city would help support that effort,” said museum board member Randy Beerbower at the Aug. 3 meeting of the board. “I have concerns that that may not be the case of the mayor, who stated at our last meeting that the museum was not a priority to him.”

Concerns, indeed.

Beerbower also said none of the $22 million armory fire insurance settlement has been set aside for a new museum location and the board should come up with “realistic replacement costs on the square footage that we had before the fire, and we need to lobby the City Council to earmark that amount and transfer it into the museum fund for true use to secure the new museum building.”

Fellow board member Don Lentz agreed. He said the board has come up with a number of suggestions for potential new locations. That includes the Historical Seaport, which is owned by the city of Aberdeen.

Lentz also said the insurance settlement for the armory fire should be used to replace the former museum.

“That’s why we got the money, in my opinion,” he said.

Schave had a predictably different viewpoint saying the insurance settlement money is “not museum money.” Hmmm.

He went on to say the “museum got the money out of the insurance funds put into the museum account ($1 million in the settlement specifically for the collection) and what’s left is city money, and the council has already committed $7 million of that to the Gateway Center.”

There are other projects, such as the police and fire stations and the North Shore Levee, that are higher on Schave’s list than a museum. And those three items should be prioritized. But the Gateway Center, really?