DALLAS (AP) - Old Red Museum supporters are rallying around the downtown Dallas museum, as officials deliberate whether it must share space with county offices or have to move to another building altogether.
Pierce Allman, chair of the museum’s board, said its exhibits offer a rich look at the history of Dallas County, from early settler days to modern-day entrepreneurs and Fortune 500 companies. He said part of the museum’s appeal is its historic building, the county’s former courthouse.
He told The Dallas Morning News editorial board on Dec. 16 that the museum would not be able to make money if Dallas County took over its event rental space or moved the museum into another county building.
“If you put a history museum in a new building, it usually doesn’t work,” he said.
The Old Red Museum has been the tenant of the historic courthouse since 2007. No county offices are in the building.
But that could change in the coming months. Dallas County commissioners hired a consultant this fall to study the best use of the space. Some commissioners have eyed the castle-like building as an appealing site for their offices or Commissioners Court meetings.
County Judge Clay Jenkins has also questioned whether it’s appropriate for the county’s two museum tenants - The Sixth Floor Museum and the Old Red Museum - to pay a low rent or no rent. He described it as a taxpayer subsidy. The county recently increased the rent of The Sixth Floor Museum, the first rent hike since it opened in 1989.
Unlike its Dealey Plaza neighbor, the Old Red Museum has not been a huge draw for tourists. About 120,000 people visit each year, including wedding guests and those who drop into the free exhibit in the building’s lobby, board member David Biegler said.
The museum owes $2.1 million to the county for the courthouse’s renovation and it has never paid rent. About two-thirds of its revenue comes from rental fees for private events, such as weddings.
But Biegler said the museum has already contributed millions of dollars to Dallas County. It raised $15.9 million in private funds to renovated the then-dilapidated Texas historic landmark in the early 2000s. He said most museums that tell the history of cities or counties break even.
Allman said the Old Red Museum also faces new competition from the Perot Museum of Nature and Science in downtown Dallas and the George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum in University Park.
Biegler said converting the courthouse into office space could be difficult and pricey. The courthouse has large banquet rooms, high ceilings and wide hallways. But he said he’d be happy to see county offices move into the building and bring more foot traffic.
Allman and Biegler said uncertainty about the courthouse’s future has hurt its event rental business and chased off brides who might otherwise book their wedding there. They said it’s also shaken up the museum’s six-person staff.
Dallas County is paying $23,600 for the 90-day study by Architexas and consulting firm, Freese and Nichols. The report will include a review of the museum’s finances and its visitor numbers.
The Old Red Museum’s space analysis report will be presented in February, along with plans for the Records Complex, said Jonathan Bazan, assistant county administrator.
Information from: The Dallas Morning News, https://www.dallasnews.com
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