COLUMBIA — A proposed $5 million from the state would allow construction to start this summer on the long-planned International African American Museum on Charleston's waterfront, former Mayor Joe Riley said.
South Carolina legislators have not decided on the additional cash after already giving the museum $14 million since 2014. Senators will debate next week whether to include the $5 million in the upcoming budget, giving supporters hope.
That's still short of the $25 million total that Riley said previous legislative leaders agreed to, but it would be enough to break ground on the $75 million museum in late summer.
"We need to know the money will be in hand — that money will be available to complete the museum," Riley told The Post and Courier. If $5 million is allotted "we have every reason to be confident the rest is forthcoming."
That $5 million is far from certain. The Senate is expected to approve the money. But there will debate between House and Senate negotiators as they hash out differences in the chambers' $8 billion spending plans.
"Consensus was reached years ago this is something that would be funded," said Sen. Tom Davis, R-Beaufort. "I think it performs a vital civic function and it's appropriate."
The House plan, approved last month, includes nothing for the museum that Riley has championed since 2000.
"It's not a state project," House Ways and Means Chairman Brian White, R-Anderson, said Tuesday, adding it's unfair to give millions to one city project when there are so many needs statewide. He has noted the state doesn't have the $2 billion needed to repair existing state buildings.
Riley said making the museum a reality called for $25 million from the state, $25 million from private donations, $12.5 million from the city of Charleston and $12.5 million from Charleston County.
The state never pledged any amount, White said.
While there may have been a "gentlemen's agreement" with former leaders, "there is no signed agreement anywhere," he said.
The museum is set to be built next to the Charleston Maritime Center at Gadsden’s Wharf, an area where tens of thousands of people once came to Charleston in chains.
Riley rejects the notion the museum is a local project. It's vitally important to not only the entire state but the country, he said.
"Charleston had a central role in African American history," he said. "It's American history about which we know little, and our state and country is enhanced when we better understand who we are and honor those who helped build our community and country."
Private fundraising is just $2 million shy of the $25 million goal, Riley said. The tally includes more than $2.6 million in not-yet-announced pledges.
The largest announcement by far came last October from the Indiana-based Lilly Endowment, which pledged more than $5 million for construction and $4 million for an endowment.
Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter, the top Democrat on the S.C. House budget writing panel, said it's unfortunate House leaders can't recognize the museum's significance.
"It is just adding layers and layers of tourism dollars to this state," said the Orangeburg Democrat.
Beyond tourism "when you talk about genealogy and research into roots, that museum provides another vehicle for people who want to figure out where they came from and who their people are, and people will be able to do that at this museum," she said.