City Funds IAAM Construction, Economic Inclusion Question Still Unresolved

International African American Museum view from marina

By Barney Blakeney

July 16 Charleston City Council approved a contract totaling about $59 million for the construction of the International African American Museum. Councilman Perry Keith Waring, a member of the IAAM Board of Directors called the approval a milestone moment.

Additionally council approved a construction management contract with Cumming Construction Management, Inc. in the amount of $767,689 for Phase I construction and project management services, a professional services contract with S&ME Inc. in the amount of $163,800 for materials testing and inspection services and a Undergrounding Other Work in Progress Agreement with Dominion Energy in the amount of $843,909 for engineering services and construction to convert overhead electric distribution to underground services on Concord Street.

The project that began as a concept of former Charleston Mayor Joseph Riley Jr. in 2000 originally was estimated to cost about $60 million. Last September the nearly 20-year-old project met its goal of reaching $75 million. Time and inflation required more funding be raised to allow construction. That price has risen to about $92 million. About $90 million already has been raised. Groundbreaking is slated for late October with construction completion in two years.

“This project has been a lot of years in the making. A lot of people said it wouldn’t happen,” confided Waring. “Charleston and Charleston County put up their money, but it took several years to get the state to make its contribution.” But the realization of the project is coming in the wake of factors beyond the financial requirements, Waring conceded. Some resistance to the project has persisted almost from its inception.

July 15 a group billed as ‘Citizens Want Excellence At IAAM’ held a press conference. In a press release the group announced, “We, local taxpayers demanding recognition and participation in decision making for the planned International African American Museum, continue to make our concerns public. All who believe that the International African American Museum must tell a complete and authentic story of African and African American History are urged to come out in support.” The group declared, “Not about us, without us!”

Waring said he feels concerns, even resistance, is part of the process in developing any project. To think there would be no resistance or concern is unrealistic, he said. He added however, he doesn’t feel minority economic development associated with the project is a role for the museum. Waring said he anticipates a significant percentage of the design and construction of the project will include Black businesses. But sustained economic inclusion is a role for the Black business community, he said.

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