New Plan, 2013–2016
As a consequence of SBER’s abandonment of a project it found no longer financially feasible, the remaining $4.2 million dollars of voter-approved state money from the 2002 bond for exhibitry build-out at the former South Street Station was no longer useful to HHM. The “turn-key” museum condominium within Dynamo House did not exist to receive it; therefore, Heritage Harbor Museum relinquished any claim to these funds in 2013, thereby allowing them to be used for other public purposes.
From early 2013 onward, HHM engaged in protracted and arduous negotiations with developer Commonwealth Ventures to sell its property interests in Dynamo House and forgive and release Dynamo LLC from its obligations to HHM. These obligations and assets included the $6 million mortgage, the deed restrictions and easement mandating that a state history museum be located on the site, and HHM’s state and federal rehabilitation tax credits. The prospective purchaser, Richard Galvin/Commonwealth Ventures, had now assembled a tenant package for the building in concert with Brown University, Rhode Island College, and the University of Rhode Island. South Street Station’s projected use is part of a larger anticipated development project in the Jewelry, or Knowledge, District.
Our negotiations resulted in a $4.5 million settlement in exchange for our property interests. Five hundred thousand dollars of this sum involved the assumption by the developer of a loan to HHM by the City of Providence to secure historic tax credits for the museum portion of the building. Of the $4 million in cash received by HHM, approximately $325,000 was used to pay off existing debt, $75,000 was reserved for future operating expenses, and $3.6 million was transferred to the Rhode Island Foundation to fund a Heritage Harbor Foundation. In sum, the net proceeds of the sale of Heritage Harbor’s interests has become the corpus for a new grant- making foundation whereby the Heritage Harbor Museum will fulfill its original mission of promoting Rhode Island’s cultural heritage.
Heritage Harbor Museum’s original state charter of June 22, 1979 established the Foundation for the Promotion of State Cultural Heritage. Ironically, this is a fitting description of its new plan and purpose. Rather than attempting to establish a no-longer feasible state history museum, this new foundation will make grants to Rhode Island historical organizations, scholars, and other qualifying individuals and entities for historical research, publications, presentations, performances, school programs, and public projects consistent with the museum’s “Six Big Ideas” Rhode Island history. These “ideas,” developed with funding from the 2002 bond issue, were to be themes of the museum’s permanent exhibits. They include: (1) the role played by Narragansett Bay in the state’s development; the subject fields of (2) the impact of immigration and ethnicity on Rhode Island; (3) the ingenuity, inventiveness, enterprise, and design ability of the state’s entrepreneurs; (4) turning points in Rhode Island history; (5) the effect of transportation on state development; and (6) the particular customs and lore of the state’s many villages, parishes, and urban neighborhoods. Historical markers, sculptures, monuments, tableaux, and plaques illustrating any of these themes may also be grant-eligible, but capital improvement grants will not be made by the Foundation.
The 11-member board of the Foundation also intends to create a web-based component, enabling electronic delivery of the content of these basic historical themes to all Rhode Island schools. This online stream of heritage information will help to fulfill the organization’s intent to teach Rhode Island history from kindergarten through high school. It will also be available to the state’s general population and others interested in Rhode Island history, thereby creating a “virtual” version of the museum.
The Foundation will provide grants within the range of each major corporate donor’s interests and in the name of those donors, fulfilling their charitable intent in supporting the Heritage Harbor Museum project. By these means the original vision and mission of the Heritage Harbor Museum will be achieved and implemented.
As of early 2016, the long-range plan of the Foundation is to establish a permanent office and exhibit area in a building to be constructed by the Rhode Island Heritage Hall of Fame on a 2.67 acre site in Bristol adjacent to Roger Williams University. To this end, the Foundation has approved an association with the Hall of Fame and another occupant, the Rhode Island Publications Society, to increase public knowledge and appreciation of Rhode Island history and heritage.
(Dr.) Patrick T. Conley
Albert T. Klyberg, L.H.D.