Mint Museum gets $5 million for uptown facility

At a rooftop celebration in uptown Charlotte tonight, Mint Museum officials will announce to supporters and government leaders a $5 million grant – the museum's largest ever – enabling it to build its new uptown home as planned.

The Robert Haywood Morrison Foundation made the gift, the largest the Charlotte foundation has awarded. The money will be used for the new 145,000-square-foot museum building, part of the Wachovia cultural complex on South Tryon. Construction begins in a few weeks.

“Because of the Morrison Foundation gift we were able to think and dream for this building at a level we wouldn't have otherwise,” said Zach Smith, chairman of the building committee. He said the grant, which the Mint has been discussing since 2006, will be used to make the new building “visitor friendly,” with features such as escalators.

Morrison Foundation President Cynthia Haldenby Tyson said the gift matches the interests of the foundation's founder, a Charlotte real estate investor who died in 2005. He was a member of the Mint, she said, and interested in the arts.

It was Tyson who first approached the Mint.

“Every once in a while you get a surprise and this was certainly one of them,” said Mint Director Phil Kline.

Under a complex financing agreement between Wachovia, the city and county, the budget for the building was set in 2005 at $54 million. With increasing construction costs and features museum officials feel are essential, the estimated cost is now $57 million – and may go higher. The grant will cover the $3 million difference, with some of the remainder going to the Arts and Science Council's $83 million endowment drive for cultural groups.

Mint officials said they knew they couldn't ask the city for more money and might have to reduce the project.

The importance of the gift, they said, was not anything added but what was saved.

“The first thing we thought about was reducing the size of the building,” said Smith. “We steadfastly resisted that.”

Designed by Machado and Silvetti Associates of Boston, the building spreads over five floors and will house collections of glass, ceramics, wood and other material now in the Mint Museum of Craft + Design on North Tryon. The site of tonight's gala, it will close before the new building's scheduled opening in 2010.

Also, contemporary and America paintings and other material from the Mint's Randolph Road facility will move uptown. That building will remain open for decorative arts and other collections.

Because visitors will have to go a second level and higher to get to the art, Mint officials will use the grant money to get them into and around the building.

A glass elevator will take visitors from a street-level lobby to the main second floor. A third elevator, added with the grant money, will help move them from the second floor to galleries on the third and fourth floors. Escalators will carry them several stories through the grand room to the galleries. That room will be named the Robert Haywood Morrison Atrium.

Also, flooring in the changing galleries will be wood instead of concrete, with carpeting in the permanent collection galleries.

“The Morrison gift helps us on lots of those things,” he said.