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Volume 26, Number 7 — July 2019

BCMA Receives $2.5 million Loan for Cultural Heritage Center


*** This story was published Jan. 16, 2010 in the Bristol Herald Courier. ***

BRISTOL, VA — Efforts to mark Bristol's place in country music history took a huge step forward Friday when the Birthplace of Country Music Association received a $2.5 million loan from the federal government.

The loan, which comes from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Rural Development Agency, puts the alliance more than halfway toward raising the $10 million it needs to build a cultural heritage center in downtown Bristol.

It also reflects what U.S. Rep. Rick Boucher, D-Va., said was the federal government's continuing desire to see the alliance succeed in its plans to build a museum that could serve as a major tourist draw and an economic boost for the region.

"The reward serves as a federal endorsement and verification of this project," Boucher said in a Friday phone interview about the agency's loan. The loan has very favorable terms, he said, including a 4 percent interest rate and a 40-year term.

New York talent scout Ralph Peer travelled to Bristol, Tenn., in July 1927 to hear music performed by the original Carter family, Jimmie Rodgers and several other musicians during a 10-day recording session known as the Bristol Sessions.

Those sessions were later called the "Big Bang of Country Music" because they produced the first commercially viable country music album and exposed that genre of music to the entire nation.

Recognizing this contribution, the Tennessee and Virginia legislatures, in 1984 and 1995 respectively, passed resolutions naming Bristol the "Birthplace of Country Music." In 1998, the U.S. Congress passed a similar resolution granting the city the recognition.

Six years later, a local businessman gave the alliance a 24,000-square-foot building on Cumberland Street in downtown Bristol that could one day house a cultural center and museum celebrating the Bristol Sessions and their place in country music's history.

Estimated to cost $10.5 million, this museum will feature exhibits on loan from the Smithsonian Institution and a 100-seat theater for musical performances. The center is expected to bring 75,000 visitors to the region each year and have a $43 million economic impact on the local economy in the first five years.

"We need about $3.8 million to finish this out and be able to bring this project to bid," said Bill Hartley, the alliance's executive director. On Friday, Hartley said the rural development agency's loan was the third major contribution the alliance has received in the past few months.

In December 2009, the Virginia Tobacco Indemnification and Community Revitalization Commission presented the alliance with the balance of a $1.95 million pledge it made toward the museum earlier that year.

Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine followed that pledge last week when he recommended that the cultural center project get a $500,000 grant from the Appalachian Regional Commission, a partnership of state and federal governments in the mountain region.

"It's a great way to start the year," Hartley said Friday. "To have that commitment to this project will help us go out and get the remaining funds that we need."