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Taxpayers Pony Up for State Museum

The State Museum is asking taxpayers to cough up as much as $15.5 million for a proposed expansion that’s been on its wish list for more than a decade.

 

The museum has convinced Lexington County Council, Richland County Council and Columbia City Council to agree to give a combined total of $2.5 million over the next five years so it can begin building a planetarium, observatory and 4-D theater.

 

The museum’s foundation is trying to come up with a total of $23.5 million for the project, according to The State newspaper.

 

South Carolina lawmakers have already awarded the foundation $11.5 million, the paper reported, but the foundation can claim that money only if it raises an additional $11.5 million to match it.

 

It currently has more than $9 million, but is still short of its goal. According to museum officials, the foundation has to raise the remaining money quickly or risk scuttling the project entirely.

 

As a result, the foundation is looking for a multi-million-dollar loan, so it can begin construction, with the idea being to pay the bank back as pledges come in.

 

The foundation has also applied for $1.6 million in federal stimulus money.

 

Columbia City Council members approved a $1 million commitment in hospitality tax dollars over five years to the State Museum Foundation.

 

Richland County Council also made a substantial pledge in hospitality tax revenue, as did the Lexington County Council.

 

Foundation Executive Director Adrienne Huffman, who did not return calls to The Nerve, became the foundation’s executive director in 2006, after spending seven years with Columbia-based legislative lobbying firm Capitol Consultants.

 

“We're just helping them,” Columbia Mayor Bob Coble told The State newspaper. “The news here is that the project is moving forward.”

 

Columbia, of course, finished the past fiscal year with a $9 million deficit and saw the city cut its budget, lay off employees and end commercial garbage pickup for dumpster-like containers. Richland and Lexington counties also cut their budgets this year.

 

Funded primarily through public support, the $29 million museum was opened in 1988 in the former Mount Vernon Mill near the Columbia Canal. It first laid out the current expansion plans in 1998.

 

Reach Dietrich at (803) 779-5022 or kevin@scpolicycouncil.com.

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