As state lawmakers made their final budget decisions this week, they declined to approve a $5 million sum for Charleston's planned International African American Museum.
But former Mayor Joe Riley, who has spearheaded efforts to realize the $75 million project, said it shouldn't delay the start of construction.
"I’m not at all discouraged by what happened, and I think we should be moving forward,” he said.
Riley made several trips to Columbia this year to urge lawmakers to appropriate $5 million more toward the museum. While he ultimately didn't get the money, he said the decision doesn't reflect a change of heart among lawmakers.
"There is real interest in the museum and a growing understanding of its importance to our state and to our country," Riley said. "In my conversations with members of the Legislature, no one is saying, 'I don’t know why we need this.' "
State Rep. Leon Stavrinakis, D-Charleston, agreed. "I'm extremely optimistic the commitment is still there," he said Friday. "We feel everything will be fine."
As planned, the city of Charleston, which has pledged land and $12.5 million toward the project, would oversee its construction. Riley said he hopes City Council will be presented with a construction contract later this summer that, if approved, would allow construction work to begin later this year or early next year.
The state already has appropriated $14 million toward the project, and Riley said many state leaders support giving $25 million total — the same amount that the city and county of Charleston have jointly committed to spend. Riley had hoped to get a $5 million installment this year and the other $6 million in future years.
Meanwhile, private fundraising has been strong. Earlier this month, Synovus Financial Corp. and its NBSC subsidiary pledged $250,000, leaving museum organizers less than $2 million shy of their $25 million goal in private donations.
The city plans to build the project not by a traditional design-bid-build approach but with what's known as a construction manager at risk method — the same method the city used to renovate the Gaillard Center. The construction manager method can help improve the percentage of work subcontracted out to minority and women-owned firms, Capital Projects Director Edmund Most said.
Last fall, a city selection committee chose a joint venture between Turner Construction and Brownstone Construction Group of Columbia for the project.
Once further details are hammered out, including the full scope of work and a guaranteed maximum price to the city, a contract could be presented to City Council, Most said.
"Realistically, construction would begin either very late this year or early next year," Riley said.
The museum building, designed in a collaboration between Moody Nolan and Pei Cobb Freed & Partners, will occupy the vacant slice of Cooper Riverfront land just north of the Charleston Maritime Center.
This site also is where archaeologists recently confirmed Gadsden's Wharf once stood, a wharf that was Charleston's last major entry point for African slaves before the practice was outlawed in 1808. Interpreting that historic site underneath the elevated museum building will be a prominent feature of the project.