The financially troubled Charlotte Museum of History announced a series of changes this week, including a new executive director and plans to vacate its well-known headquarters in east Charlotte.
However, the museum will continue to operate a small office at the site on Shamrock Drive, using space in the attic of the nearby Hezekiah Alexander House (built in 1774), the countys oldest residence. Administrative staff will be relocated off-site to space leased from the Levine Museum of the New South on Seventh Street, officials said.
Kay Peninger will take over the organization March 25, replacing departing interim director Kathy Ridge, who spent the past year trying to stabilize the museums finances and retool its mission.
Ridge said talks to move out of the 35,000-square-foot headquarters have been part of that process since the beginning. The building, built in 1999 for about $5.5 million, will be taken over later this month by the surrounding 227-acre Aldersgate United Methodist Retirement Community, which owns the 6.5 acres used by the museum.
Suzanne Pugh, president of Aldersgate, said Friday that a task force created last fall is studying potential uses for the building, including the possibility of it hosting another nonprofit. Aldersgate currently leases space on its property to several nonprofits, including the Alzheimers Association, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Senior Centers and a meeting facility for the Western N.C. Conference of the United Methodist Church. No deadline is set for a decision.
Its at our front door, so were looking for just the right partner, said Pugh. Until then, well use the building for some administrative and security services.
The building has been closed to the public since May, after museum officials determined a series of cost-cutting moves would not stem the tide of increasing debt.
Vacating the building makes sense because it is no longer needed, officials said.
The museum is changing its mission from collections to education, said Ridge, who runs Levridge Resources, a consulting firm for nonprofits.
We have a new business model, a smaller staff, and we just dont need the building. Our focus is on the historic site and new programs that tell the earliest history of Charlotte.
The museum also wants to see the Alexander house become a statewide tourist attraction, she said. Thats an arena where Peninger has prior experience.
She most recently served as executive director of the St. Johns Church Foundation, a nonprofit devoted to preservation of the church in Richmond, Va., where Patrick Henry gave his Give me liberty or give me death speech.
Mary Turk-Meena, board chair for the museum, said Peninger was among 53 candidates from as far away as California. Museum officials declined to release her salary.
We wanted someone with a track record, said Turk-Meena. What jumped out at us is that (Peninger) ran a historical property in Richmond that is very similar to the Hezekiah Alexander House and she was extraordinarily successful at it.
The historic home is currently open only the first Saturday of every month, and Turk-Meena said thats not likely to change until finances are strengthened. However, the long-range goal is to see programs at the house enhanced, including school tours.
We are being very careful about not getting ahead of ourselves, in terms of expense, said Turk-Meena.
The museum is a nonprofit run by an independent board. Before closing last year, it had a budget of about $1 million, supplied mostly by private donations. However, the museum suffered heavy revenue losses during the recession, including a $100,000 cut in money from the Arts & Science Council, its biggest contributor.
Closing the main building last year saved more than $100,000 in expenses, officials said. Since then, the museum has settled its outstanding debt, officials said.
As far as the effort to vacate the main building, Turk-Meena said a more formal plan will be announced in coming weeks. Among the expectations is that the museum will continue using the parking lot in front of the building.
The museums roots date back to 1976 when the Hezekiah Alexander Homesite and reception center were run by the Mint Museum. In 1990, a foundation took over the site, and in 1999, the new building opened featuring three galleries focused on Mecklenburg history.