Thursday, July 8, 2010

Arts Academy could find home in Bluegrass Museum

If the International Bluegrass Music Museum moves three blocks west to the state office building, the city hopes to move the planned arts academy into the museum's current home at Second and Daviess streets.

That would save an estimated $5 million from the cost of a new building, Mayor Ron Payne said in a meeting with the Messenger-Inquirer's editorial board Wednesday. And it would speed up the opening of the academy.

"We think that's a great idea," Roxi Witt, the RiverPark Center's general manager, said later. "It would really complement what we're doing."

The academy would offer a theater degree -- and possibly others -- through Kentucky Wesleyan College, Brescia University and Owensboro Community & Technical College. Students would be able to use the RiverPark Center's Cannon Hall and other RiverPark Center spaces for training.


Turning the state office building into a new International Bluegrass Music Center rather than demolishing it will save $600,000 by not removing contaminated soil from beneath the building and $800,000 in demolition costs, Payne said.

The soil is only dangerous if it is disturbed by digging, he said.

Some of the money saved could be used to create a more attractive exterior for the concrete-and-glass building and some could possibly be used to help pay off the debt at the RiverPark Center, Payne said.

But first, the bluegrass museum's board of trustees still has to approve the move.

Terry Woodward, the board's vice chairman, said the next board meeting is slated for November. "But we'll probably need to have one before then," he said.

First, he said, the board needs to do a study on the costs associated with moving to the new building and operating the museum there.

The current museum has 22,000 square feet. The state office building has 60,000.

"We need to get the feasibility study done quickly," Woodward said.

He wants the museum to start a bluegrass opry, a bluegrass version of Nashville's Grand Ole Opry, and add a summer musical, similar to Bardstown's "Stephen Foster Story."

Woodward said he would like to see the museum offer fiddle and banjo camps each year to complement its signature mandolin camp.

Barry Alberts, managing partner of CityVisions, a Louisville consulting company working on the downtown development project, said bluegrass is a natural brand for Owensboro that can be used to attract visitors from around the world.

The plans call for a giant musical instrument -- maybe a copy of Bill Monroe's mandolin -- on the Second Street side of the building. And Alberts showed photos of bicycle racks shaped like musical instruments for downtown.

Woodward said there are an estimated 50 million to 60 million bluegrass fans worldwide.

Payne said the city and county want to approach state and federal officials about having the museum declared the nation's official bluegrass museum.

He said as far as the city is concerned the move is "pretty much a done deal."

The city would pay for work on the exterior of the building and the museum would pay for whatever is done inside, Payne said.

A key to the move's success, Woodward said, is money to market the museum.

"We have to bring people to town to fill the hotels," he said.

Payne said the city is considering creating a public events department to promote events, including bluegrass festivals and possibly "dragon boat" races "along our beautiful riverfront."

This year marks the 25th anniversary of the city's move to become a center of bluegrass music.

Keith Lawrence, 691-7301, klawrence@messenger-inquirer.com