Thursday, May 10, 2001

Museum can begin to build


City, county work out the details

By Dan Klepal
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        The Underground Railroad Freedom Center is ready to move from ink and paper to concrete and steel.

        Four deals approved Wednesday by Hamilton County commissioners finalize details that will allow the $110 million museum to be built at the foot of the Roebling Suspension Bridge.

        Three years in the making, the agreements spell out the county's responsibility to build a $17 million parking garage that will act as a podium for the museum, along with the city's obligation to lease the land.

        Another agreement spells out the city/county coordination of design and construction for the nearby transit center.

        Groundbreaking for the 720-space garage, known as the “Block 3 Garage,” will be May 21. Construction should be complete by June 2002. The museum will be built during the two years after garage construction.

        “This marks the launch of the Freedom Center,” said Ed Rigaud, museum president and chief executive officer. “We really could not have this site without this agreement. It's the cornerstone for everything we need to begin the building process.”

        The center is a tribute to the network of African-Americans, abolitionists and their allies who helped slaves escape from the South to freedom in the North before the Civil War.

        Mr. Rigaud said Freedom Center officials have raised $64 million, with another $20 million pending. He said the entire $110 million should be raised in 18 months.

        The parking garage is important because it will lift the museum out of the flood plain.

        A lease for the parking garage specifies that the city will lease the land to Hamilton County for 99 years, charging $1 per year. It also says the museum cannot make any design changes that would not be supported by the garage.

        Tom Gabelman, a consulting attorney who helped prepare the agreements, said the unique design of the museum has caused the county to “overbuild” the garage so that it will support the museum's three buildings. That overbuild will cost $6.3 million.

        “That is, in essence, the county's additional contribution to the Freedom Center to allow this project to move forward,” Mr. Gabelman said.

        The Freedom Center will have one exhibit intended to help people talk more honestly and directly about racial diversity. Visitors will be invited to join an interracial dialogue as part of the last section of exhibits.

        Mr. Rigaud said the museum will be a safe house from the type of racial tensions that have gripped the city for the past month.

        “These tough times underscore the need for the Freedom Center,” Mr. Rigaud said. “This kind of (city/county) partnership is what will be required to pull our central riverfront together and to pull our people together.”

       



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