Charleston seeks cash for African-American museum

It is now projected that the International African American Museum will cost $75 million. (Photo/Provided) It is now projected that the International African American Museum will cost $75 million. (Rendering/Provided)

By Liz Segrist
Published Oct. 23, 2013

The long-awaited International African American Museum is set to open by 2018, Charleston Mayor Joe Riley said during a City Council meeting Tuesday.

The museum, which it’s now projected will cost $75 million, has been in city discussions for more than a decade. The 42,300-square-foot museum will be built on a grass plot near the Charleston Aquarium’s parking garage at Liberty Square off East Bay Street.

The planned museum site is the same site where many Africans first landed in North America before being sold into slavery.

“These few acres witnessed one of the world’s most pivotal human migrations; no other place saw such a dramatic influx of enslaved African arrivals,” according to the museum’s website. “IAAM (International African American Museum) is an authentic visitor experience that cannot be duplicated elsewhere in America.”

The museum would serve to showcase an accurate depiction of the city’s heritage and the history of the enslaved Africans and free blacks who helped build Charleston. Nearly 80% of African Americans can potentially trace an ancestor who arrived through Charleston.

“This project is needed — and it was needed yesterday,” former Charleston City Council Chairman Louis Waring said during the meeting.

The $75 million price tag would require funding from several entities, as well as private donors.

Riley said the city of Charleston could allocate $12.5 million from its tourism tax revenue funds; Charleston County could allocate $12.5 million; the state could give $25 million, and the remaining $25 million could be garnered from private donations and fundraising efforts.

If the municipalities and state approve the financing, construction is set to begin in late 2015 or early 2016.

“We’re moving forward to take the steps to build it,” Riley said. “It is time to build it.”

Charleston City Council estimated that the museum’s regional economic impact would be roughly $30 million annually. Riley said it could be another draw for tourists, as well as an attraction for a new niche of tourists for the city.

“IAAM promises to be a major asset in the revitalization of Charleston’s downtown eastern waterfront area — one that will attract new visitors and add depth to the city’s existing heritage,” the museum’s website said. 

Reach Liz Segrist at 843-849-3119.

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