Mayor says he’ll continue fundraising for African American museum after he leaves office

Charleston Mayor Joe Riley has said completing the International African American Musuem on this site on the Cooper River is one of his top priorities. And several candidates who so far have announced they will run for mayor in November say they will support the project.

The International African American Museum, one of Charleston Mayor Joe Riley’s signature projects, is high on support but is less than halfway to its fundraising goal.

So far Riley has brought in about $31 million of the $75 million needed to complete the project. But he’s committed to bringing in the rest, even though the fundraising task likely will continue for years after he leaves office in January, he said. And several candidates who are in the running to replace him said they think the project is important, and they are behind it.

Riley’s goal was to raise $25 million from the city and county, $25 million from the state, and $25 million in private funds. Last year, the city and the county each agreed to contribute $12.5 million. The General Assembly, however, only approved $5 million. And so far Riley has raised only $1 million in private funds.

The longtime mayor said he plans to ask the General Assembly for $5 million this year, and then $5 million each year for the next three years.

He expects construction to begin in January 2017. And the building will take two years to complete, he said.

State Rep. Chip Limehouse, R-Charleston, who is a member of the House Ways and Means Committee, said he thinks Riley’s chances of getting some money from the Legislature this year are good. But it’s too early in the budget process to predict how much the museum will get.

Riley, he said, has been working hard to promote the museum to legislators. “And nobody is better at getting things done than Mayor Riley.”

Riley said private fundraising is in its early stages. “I have made some good quality requests that are under consideration,” he said. “There are several seven-figure requests out there.”

He also said construction can’t begin until the $25 million in private funds has been raised. “But I’m very confident we will raise the $25 million.”

Mayoral candidates Leon Stavrinakis, a state representative and Charleston City Councilman William Dudley Gregorie, both said they have supported money for the museum in their respective positions, and they would continue to do that as mayor.

Gregorie said the museum will tell “an American story that needs to be told.” And it will add to the area’s economic prosperity.

Stavrinakis said he supported money for the project last year and he’s promoting the project now among his colleagues in the Legislature.

The state already has money invested in the project, Stavrinakis said. “Dropping the project now would be pretty foolish.”

Candidate Henry Fishburne, a former city councilman, said that he supports the museum, and if he’s elected, he would support Riley’s efforts. But he said, if Riley doesn’t raise all of the money before he leaves office, he would ask Riley to continue fundraising.

“He’s the logical person,” Fishburne said, “and he’s obviously passionate about it.”

John Tecklenburg, a Charleston businessman and another candidate, said Riley is committed to raising the money, but he strongly supports the project. “It’s such an important story to tell,” he said, “and this is the place it happened.”

Ginny Deerin, Riley’s former campaign manager, who is considering a run for the mayor’s seat, said in a prepared statement, “The African American Museum, which Mayor Riley has long championed, must be built. It’s critical that we engage with philanthropists, foundations and other partners, so that the price of this remarkable endeavor does not only fall to the taxpayers of Charleston.”

Riley said he doesn’t think his leaving office will hurt his fundraising ability. “That ability won’t be diminished,” he said. “I’ll be the former 40-year mayor.”

Reach Diane Knich at 843-937-5491 or on Twitter at @dianeknich.