Plans for Birthplace of Country Music's Heritage Center Unveiled
By David McGee | Bristol Herald Courier | January 22, 2008*** This story appeared in the Bristol Herald Courier on Thursday, Jan. 17, 2008. ***
BRISTOL, Va. ? The Birthplace of Country Music Alliance's planned heritage center is a "guaranteed" winner, a designer told those attending a Wednesday informational meeting.
The Bristol-based alliance wants to raise about $12.5 million to convert a former downtown auto dealership into an interactive museum to promote the Twin City's musical heritage. About 90 people attended the organization's first public meeting to review its plans and fundraising campaign.
"I've worked on a lot of projects in the last 15 years. I've never told anyone else this, but this is the most exciting project that I've been associated with," said David Estabrook, senior partner of the Murfreesboro, Tenn.-based design firm LaPaglia & Associates. "You have all the elements necessary to have a 100 percent winner here."
The center would pay tribute to Bristol's musical heritage, focusing on the 1927 Bristol Sessions recordings that music historians call the "big bang" of commercial country music.
The project is expected to cost $10.5 million to renovate the two-story brick building, with another $2 million earmarked for an endowment and operating fund.
While the cost to renovate the building and develop the exhibits isn't small, Estabrook predicted it was an achievable goal.
"We've done $70 million and $80 million projects in smaller areas than this and they were able to raise the money," Estabrook said.
Among the firm's clients are the Louisville Slugger Museum in Louisville, Ky.; International Bluegrass Music Association Museum in Owensboro, Ky.; National Civil War Museum in Harrisburg, Pa.; and the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum on Oklahoma City, Okla.
In addition to Estabrook, Joe Nicholson of Philadelphia-based UJMN Architects and Designers and local architect Peyton Boyd outlined plans for the center during the nearly hour-long program.
Plans call for a performance theater, classrooms, a large exhibit space and gift shop on the ground floor. The second floor would transport visitors back to the 1927 sessions and then offer a variety of interactive exhibits to explain the event's influence on modern music, Nicholson said.
"This will not be a conventional museum with objects and labels," Nicholson said. "Our artifact is the music and we want people to experience the music in many different ways. And we want to tell that story through the people who made and this place."
After a six-minute orientation, a video screen rises and patrons walk into a set depicting the darkened, makeshift studio that talent scout/producer Ralph Peer used to record Hall of Fame performers the Carter Family, Jimmie Rodgers, the Stonemans and others during the summer of 1927.
"No other museum in the world has something like that," Estabrook said.
Among other planned exhibits are depictions of radio stations from the 1930s, 1950s and today, as well as a walkway tracing stops along the Crooked Road, Virginia's heritage music trail.
The BCMA has owned the 24,000-square-foot brick building since 2004, but has been working, organizing and planning to make the project a reality, BCMA board President Fred McClellan said.
"This is a long-awaited day. But we didn't want to talk with the community about it before finalizing exactly what we envision to create. And this bunch is prepared," McClellan said.
Among those in attendance, Paul Conco praised the project.
"It's exciting. It's got this prime, central location in Bristol to attract people to this region and it will be quite an addition to the revitalization of downtown," Conco said.
The first step is raising $3.5 million to access state, federal and private grants, allocations and tax credits to pay the balance of the expected costs.
"It's a daunting task," fundraising committee Chairman Kevin Triplett said. "But nothing worth doing is usually very easy."
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