The International African American Museum likely will have a new, waterfront location after a key City Council committee Monday approved the $3.5 million land purchase.
The city was poised to build the museum on a site at the corner of Concord and Calhoun streets, across from the S.C. Aquarium and Fort Sumter tour boat site.
But council's Real Estate Committee unanimously approved purchasing a new 1.23-acre site, which is south of the Dockside condominiums.
It also is adjacent to the site of the former Gadsden's Wharf, which was built in 1767 and accepted slave ships from Africa.
The full City Council must approve the purchase Tuesday.
Charleston Mayor Joe Riley said the city would sell the site at Concord and Calhoun streets for development. The sale will bring in more than enough to cover the cost of the new site, he said.
Riley said that when researching certain aspects of the museum, the city learned the waterfront site might be available. It's a much better site, he said, because it provides a direct view of the entrance to the Charleston Harbor and over the former Gadsden's Wharf.
Councilman Keith Waring, a member of the Real Estate Committee, said he is "a child from the days of segregation" and he's pleased to see how people of all races are committed to the museum being built. "I can't wait to take my grandson to this museum," he said.
The $3.5 million deal has two parts, Riley said. First the city will purchase .82 acres from the Balish family, which owns the property under the name Waterfront Restaurant, LLC. The family also has a long-term lease with the city on an adjacent .41-acre site, which they paid for up front, Riley said, although he didn't provide any specific amounts. The city will buy out the family's 30-year lease on that parcel, he said.
The family has owned the .82-acre portion since 2003, which it purchased from the city for $600,000.
David Humphreys, a lawyer representing the city in the deal, said the value of the two parcels of land likely is greater than $3.5 million. If that proves true, the Balish family will be able to consider the difference between the value of the property and the amount the city paid for it as a charitable contribution for tax purposes.
Riley said the family had plans in the works to open a waterfront restaurant, but it was willing to forgo those plans.
He's not sure when construction will begin on the museum. The city can't begin building until it has raised the $75 million required for the 43,500-square-foot building.
So far, the city and Charleston County each have agreed to contribute $12.5 million.
Riley hopes the state eventually will contribute $25 million, but in its most recent session, the Legislature contributed only $7 million.
The city also must raise $25 million from private sources, he said. And he's working on that. In June, he met with former President Bill Clinton, hoping to get his help in the fundraising effort. It remains unclear whether that meeting will eventually bring in any money.
Clinton, who runs the nonprofit Clinton Foundation that's geared toward improving global health, economic development and other issues, is a past member of the museum's advisory board. Local officials said there was an interest to reconnect.
Riley also said that in a few weeks, he will take a trip to New York to meet with officials at large foundations. He's committed to raising the money to complete the project, he said.
Reach Diane Knich at 843-937-5491 or on Twitter at @dianeknich.
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