Lawmakers Back Bristol Cultural Heritage Project
Present Balance of $1.95 Million in Grant Money
By DAVID McGEE | BRISTOL HERALD COURIER | December 06, 2009BRISTOL, Va. – Area lawmakers endorsed the Birthplace of Country Music Alliance cultural heritage center Monday, while presenting the balance of $1.95 million in grant money for the project.
Earlier this year, the Bristol-based nonprofit alliance received $1.7 million from the Virginia Tobacco Indemnification and Community Revitalization Commission. Officials presented the $250,000 balance during a Monday news conference.
"We stand behind you," state Sen. William Wampler of Bristol said, adding that he looks forward to significant work on the $10 million heritage center beginning in the "not too distant future."
In the five years since the BCMA began efforts to establish the musical heritage center inside a vacant Cumberland Street building, the commission has approved about $2.5 million in funding.
The BCMA project would showcase the legacy of the 1927 Bristol recording sessions known as the "big bang" of commercial country music, and the region's other contributions to bluegrass and country music.
The facility would greatly aid marketing the region, said state Delegate Terry Kilgore, R-Gate City, the commission's vice chairman.
"This is important to our overall plan of marketing The Crooked Road and the work going on in Abingdon at the regional heritage center," said Kilgore, referring to a new $14 million artisan center at Virginia Highlands Community College. "This [BCMA facility] will be an integral part of what we're doing to promote cultural activities here in Southwest Virginia."
The Bristol site would also complement existing musical heritage centers like the Carter Family Fold in Maces Springs in Scott County and the Ralph Stanley Museum in Clintwood, state Sen. Phillip Puckett, D-Lebanon, said. Both have received commission funding.
"We've [the commission] made huge investments in the tourism piece that we think will produce huge dividends in the future," Puckett said.
A study by the University of Virginia's Weldon Cooper Center predicts the BCMA heritage center would attract 75,000 annual visitors and have a $43 million economic impact during its first five years.
"A lot of people say why give this money for music," state Delegate Joe Johnson, D-Abingdon, said. "But this will be a beautiful, useful facility and a lasting tribute to our musical heritage."
The BCMA's formal fundraising efforts have been under way for more than a year, but more money is needed before it can put the $10 million overhaul of the former auto dealership out for bids. About $1.5 million has already been invested in planning, design and preliminary site work.
The BCMA also awaits word on an application for a nearly $4.4 million loan from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's program for rural development for community facilities.
Confirmation of that request, combined with some additional private donations, would trigger putting the project out for bid, fundraising Chairman Kevin Triplett said, adding that they are also trying to raise about $3 million for operating expenses.
In the meantime, alliance officials don't plan to access much of the remaining $1.7 million without additional private contributions.
"The $1.7 [million] is there, but to make it active we have to leverage that money with other private donors," Triplett said. "We've had very good conversations with a lot of people. We've done what we said we'd do and gotten the public funding first."
The commission's $250,000 check will be used immediately to address a water runoff problem at the rear of the building, Triplett said.
Additional site work is planned for next year.
Other grant money is earmarked for two specific areas – technical equipment for exhibits and site improvements.
"This project will be completed," Triplett said. "And it will be something this community and the region can be very proud of."