The state Bond Commission gave several Jackson-area projects the go-ahead last week, paving the way for a much-anticipated civil-rights museum downtown.
The state Legislature passed a bill last session calling for the state to issue $38 million in bonds to fund a Museum of Mississippi History and a Mississippi Civil Rights Museum, but the Bond Commission had to approve those funds..
Lucy Allen, museum division director at the Mississippi Department of Archives and History, said now that the commission has authorized the sale of bonds, the projects can move forward. The bill states that the Legislature intends for the museums to be open to the public by 2017, Mississippi's bicentennial, a hope that Attorney General Jim Hood and Gov. Haley Barbour echoed at the Bond Commission meeting.
With all the work that needs to be done to get two museums built and stocked with exhibits, Allen said the project probably will not be finished before 2017, although MDAH hopes to meet the target. The costs for building the museums are still being finalized, but both also need private donations.
The Bond Commission approved a total of $40 million in bonds for the museums and allowed the state Bureau of Building, Grounds and Real Property Management to draw down $4 million for pre-planning.
Officials discussed Tougaloo College as a potential location for the Civil Rights Museum in 2008, and the Jackson Redevelopment Authority suggested a site near Farish Street earlier this year. Allen said, however, that the museum will be between the William F. Winter Archives and History Building and the site for the Museum of Mississippi History on North Street. Mississippi has been planning a civil-rights museum since at least 2008, when Gov. Haley Barbour appointed a commission that recommended Tougaloo's campus as a site for the museum. After those plans stalled, Barbour called for building the museum in downtown Jackson.
The Old Capitol once housed Mississippi's history museum, but did not have enough room for all the exhibits and storage. The Old Capitol Museum now focuses on the building's history, MDAH said.
The Jackson Zoo will also get a boost from $1.3 million in bond money for ongoing renovations to help it maintain its accreditation with the American Zoo and Aquarium Association. Beth Poff, the zoo's director, said some of the money will probably be used to renovate exhibits for the Amur leopard (an endangered Russian breed), gibbons and tapirs, which are some of the oldest animal exhibits at the zoo. The zoo will also use the money to add interactive displays to educational stations and to repair roofs.
"Some of it is not as visible, but very important," Poff said.
The commission also approved issuing up to $100,000 in bonds for the Mississippi Children's Museum. Susan Garrard, executive director of the museum, said they are also seeking private funding. During its first eight months of operation, 160,000 visitors came through its doors, Garrard said.
The Mississippi Craft Center in Ridgeland will also get up to $100,000 in bond money, some of which will go to new parking areas.