Move along. Nothing to see here…
What else is one supposed to glean from the Tribune’s coverage of the City’s relationship with the Children’s Museum of Montana? The City isn’t evicting the museum, they would never do that, and angsty, misinformed residents are spewing “alternative facts” on social media, etc.
But doesn’t it seem like there’s more to this story? Here’s the lede from the Trib:
The Children’s Museum of Montana and the city of Great Falls are in discussion about the museum’s plans for the future, and the city is considering converting the site into an office building if the move makes sense for both parties.
From this, one presumes that the Children’s Museum might inexplicably abandon its well-furnished home of 18 years, and not attempt to renew its very generous lease of $1/year, which expires in 2018. (How, then, would moving make sense for both parties?) Or, one could surmise that the City plans to raise the rent, and effectively serve the museum — not now, but next year — a de facto eviction notice. So, which is it?
Highlighting to readers what the museum wants out of the deal seems to be such a fundamental element to the story, yet this information is nowhere to be found in the Tribune. Instead, it is teased and suggested that, actually, maybe the museum wants out of its (also unreported) $1/year lease with the City. Children’s Museum of Montana Executive Director Sandie Edwards told E-City Beat, emphatically, “We want to stay.”
In the Trib’s article, Mayor Bob Kelly said the City was just wondering if the museum had gotten too big to operate in its existing home.
Great Falls Mayor Bob Kelly said, ‘It would be silly to start a big construction project if the museum comes to us when the lease expires in ’18 and says they’ve outgrown the space. We’re merely having the conversation to see if they want to go somewhere else.’
Fair enough. They don’t want to go somewhere else, though, and according to Edwards, “We do not need more space (as reported by KFBB). We rock the space we have and constantly change out the exhibits to bring new life down there for the visitors.”
(First, who told KFBB the Children’s Museum needs more space? Not the museum’s Executive Director. Second, it’s reasonable that the City wants to “[have] a conversation” about the museum’s intentions. But doesn’t it sound like this should make for an extremely brief discussion? They want to stay. Third, just how big is this “big construction project” Kelly mentions? The Children’s Museum is huge. How many new employees does the City plan on hiring? Enough to fill the museum? To what extent does the City intend to grow local government?)
To his credit, Kelly pledged to stand with the Children’s Museum.
Kelly’s wife, Sheila, was one of the Children’s Museum of Montana’s founding board members and served as president for several years.
‘We have no intention whatsoever to remove them from the space,’ Kelly said. ‘I wouldn’t be able to go home if those lines were crossed.’
So if the City has “no intention whatsoever” of displacing the Children’s Museum, and if the museum isn’t currently facing eviction (as the Trib’s headline screams), then why was there so much outcry and “misinformation” on Facebook in the first place? Are these museum-backers just a bunch of cranks? Not exactly. The City has been openly, albeit quietly, eyeing the museum, at a minimum, since the Jan. 3, 2017 work session, although it’s not an idea City Commissioner Bill Bronson supports:
With regard to space utilization, Commissioner Bronson commented that he would like more information and data. He expressed opposition with regard to doing additions to the Civic Centers, and utilizing the Children’s Museum. He expressed support with regard to maintaining a campus environment. Commissioner Bronson commented that all alternatives need to be looked at by the Mansfield Center for utilizing other aspects of the Civic Center. He requested more information before making a final decision.
So, what triggered the alarm bells? If both Kelly and Bronson oppose utilizing the Children’s Museum, then which elected official thinks it’s actually a good idea to gut the museum for office space for City staff? This doesn’t sound like the machinations of Bob Jones or Fred Burow. According to Edwards, that official is City Commissioner Tracy Houck, who is also the Executive Director of the Paris Gibson Square Museum of Art. Now why would a fellow museum director want to drive out the CMOM?
Edwards met with Houck and City Manager Greg Doyon on Jan. 12. “[Doyon] told me this was Tracy’s idea. He has been wonderful to work with and is super positive about the future of the museum,” Edwards said.
Houck did not respond to emails sent to both her City and personal email accounts seeking comment.
Edwards will meet with Kelly and Doyon on March 6 to further discuss the issue. “The City has always supported the museum. We look forward to working with them in the future. Bob Kelly has also been hugely supportive of the museum over the years. I’m looking forward to meeting with him in March, as well,” Edwards said.
What is the purpose of this subsequent meeting? The positions from both sides are clear. The folks who run the Children’s Museum want the organization to stay where it is, and it should stay where it is. It is a Great Falls treasure, one which proudly served over 70,000 people in 2016, including many low-income families. The museum has used over $2 million donated dollars to elevate itself to what, and where, it is today. The mayor’s words, while encouraging, now require action. Kelly says he won’t cross “those lines,” so why not put it in writing? At this point, the only reason the City should meet with Edwards and her board is to show them, not tell them, how important their organization is, and to extend the lease for the Children’s Museum of Montana, just as it is now.