Biloxi City Council will discuss Ohr-O'Keefe funding request - - The News for South Mississippi

Biloxi City Council will discuss Ohr-O'Keefe funding request


By Steve Phillips – bio | email

BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - First Hurricane Katrina and then a national recession. Construction of the Ohr-O'Keefe Museum of Art in Biloxi endured significant setbacks from both the storm and the economy. The latest challenge for museum leaders is the still uncertain financial support from the city of Biloxi.

Design architect Frank Gehry envisioned a museum that would "dance with the trees" in East Biloxi. But Katrina abruptly "cut in" and destroyed much of the museum campus.

Now city leaders are hard pressed to find the money for an Ohr-O'Keefe funding request.

The funding request by the Ohr-O'Keefe is not for construction costs, but rather, operating expenses:  $300,000 for past operating costs and a commitment of up to $20,000 a month for future operations once the museum opens.

"What we would say as an organization it that this is an investment in the immediate future of the gulf coast and the estimate is that for every person that comes to visit this museum, beginning in November of 2010, they will bring with them an average of $220.00 to spend," said Museum Director Denny Mecham.

The message may not be resonating with Biloxi taxpayers. An informal survey by WLOX News found a majority of residents oppose city financial support of the museum.

"Well, you know, in this day and time with the way the economy is. I just think it's a no-no," said one Biloxi man.

"I don't feel the city should put any more money into it. I mean, it's a great idea, but we're broke," said a lady from Woolmarket.

"I'm behind it 100 percent. I think the city needs to spend whatever is necessary to get the museum up and running and provide the funding for it. I think it will be great for the city," said another Biloxi man.

"I think that since it's going to be George Ohr a private business, that they should take care of that," added an elderly resident.

The state of the economy is what's making this issue even more contentious. Like so many municipalities, the City of Biloxi is facing tight times financially.

When the city council voted last month to table the issue, Councilman Tom Wall said, "We absolutely do not have the money for this."

The museum director says city funding is not an "all or nothing" proposition. There's room for compromise.

"The museum and the city both feel the responsibility of the taxpayer investment in this site as well. So it is really something we want to work on together, together being the operative word, to find reasonable solutions to what are right now, particularly in this deep recession, real issues," said Mecham.

The Biloxi City Council will tackle the museum funding issue at a workshop Tuesday morning at 10:30AM.

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