Traverse City Record-Eagle

January 23, 2014

History Center eyes partners

BY MICHELLE MERLIN mmerlin@record-eagle.com and BRIAN McGILLIVARY bmcgillivary@record-eagle.com
Traverse City Record-Eagle

— TRAVERSE CITY — The 110-year-old Carnegie Library building on Sixth Street may end up housing more than just historical artifacts.

History Center of Traverse City board members are in talks with the National Cherry Festival and Artcenter Traverse City about potential partnerships or rental agreements to help address the nonprofit's persistent financial shortfall.

The historical organization faces eviction from the city-owned building it's occupied as a museum for over a decade if it can't show financial viability.

“We’re looking at somebody to share the building, looking for a partner, a collaborator,” said Steve Harold, History Center chairman.

Harold said discussions began three or four weeks ago and no details have been ironed out. It’s likely the History Center would rent out some of its rooms that usually are available for reservation, he said.

“We have $50,000 worth of city funding this year, and that will go away on December 31. We need a source to replace that income,” Harold said.

City commissioners have moved in recent years to wean the History Center from regular taxpayer support. Combined, the city and Downtown Development Authority provided payments totaling $175,000 for History Center operations since 2012. The the group still lost just more than $50,000 in 2013, according to its budget report.

A 2012 management agreement with the city calls for the History Center to show it is financially capable of maintaining the operation and maintenance of the property by Dec. 31, 2014. If the History Center accomplishes that goal, it gets title or a 99-year lease to the building and six acres of property.

Failure means eviction.

Mayor Michael Estes said he recently met with History Center officials who asked him if he thought city commissioners would consider extending the lease. Estes noted the History Center is supposed to make a regular financial report to the city that it failed to present in October.

"Until I see their financial report I can't answer those questions," Estes said. "In terms of any kind of partnership, I think it's a great idea simply to enhance their viability, if nothing else."

Cherry Festival officials have had on-and-off talks the last six years about leasing office space in the Carnegie building, said Trevor Tkach, the festival's executive director.

"If we would move the offices there, it would be a good home for us," Tkach said.

Cherry Festival staff also could offer marketing and management expertise and help with special events, Tkach said. The organization already has an investment in the History Center because it houses the festival's historic archives along with the city's archives.

"The resounding concern in the community right now is the history," Tkach said. "We are dedicated to preserving it."

The Artcenter’s board has been in talks with the History Center since the fall, said Bob Streit, a member of the Artcenter board.

“We’ve found that when people say they’re an art center, people expect you to be somewhere. We didn’t have a place,” Streit said.

The Artcenter has office space, but is interested in space for performance arts, galleries, and classrooms.

“We began discussing with them the possibility of using a portion of that building as an art center and to change the nature of the building into a cultural center instead of just a history center,” Streit said.

Harold said he hopes to have some sort of agreement in place before year's end.