City Council Weighs-In on the Future of The Railway Museum
SAN ANGELO, TX — History is an important part of any city, and dedicated citizens along with the San Angelo City Council made that clear yesterday during a special session where they discussed the future of the Railway Museum of San Angelo's lease renewal. The non-profit's lease of the 107-year-old Santa Fe Depot is up in September.
The museum inside the depot, located at 703 S Chadbourne St., has been on a $1 per year lease with the City for the past 20 years. The renewal date for the lease is Sept. 15, and much needs to be done with the museum before the City is prepared to sign-off on a new long-term lease.
Above: The Santa Fe Depot at 702 S. Chadbourne was built in 1910. (LIVE! Photo/Joe Hyde)
San Angelo Mayor Brenda Gunter made it clear that getting the kind of lease the Museum has previously had, comes with certain expectations. She explained that having all the energy for fundraising at the end of the lease doesn't change what should have been accomplished during the past twenty years.
“Dynamics change everything, and you don’t get dollar-a-year leases without expectations,” Gunter explained. “That [lease] is a luxury.”
Councilwoman Charlotte Farmer, Single Member District (SMD) 6, weighed in on the topic pointing out the costs and the plan for the museum. She believes that accountability for the spending of the money is what’s important going forward.
“We can spend the whole afternoon hashing over who’s responsible for what, and frankly I don’t care, what’s past is past [and] I want to see us move forward,” Farmer declared. Farmer stated that she wants the process to be learning experience for both the board and the City. David Wood, board director for the Railway Museum, contends that the City failed to follow through on commitments to upkeep the air conditioning system and parking lot. He wants the City to pay for these repairs to the tune of just under $200,000.
Something that was apparent throughout the discussion was the significance the railway presents to San Angelo’s history.
“We believe in [the museum], we support it, and we want it,” Farmer added.
Wood said the number one development goal for the museum is installing a new air conditioning system. He explained that turning on the current system in the evening before opening the next day, the temperature would still be up in the 85 degrees range, when it was set for low 70’s.
The total cost for the new A/C unit would be $76,881. Additionally, replacing the historical 1910 windows, and filling-in the parking lot cracks by re-paving it, would add to the costs.
Wood plans to go back to state and national foundations with the new lease to obtain additional grants for the museum.
Another constant discussion throughout the meeting was the need for the board to have “more energy" by hosting more fundraising events, compared to waiting for grants and financial support from the City.
City Manager Daniel Valenzuela said, “I’m hearing a lot about grants and fundraising, which are important [however], for [the City] to have confidence moving forward we want to make absolutely sure that history doesn’t repeat itself.”
New board member Brandy Petty spoke to the council about providing this energy for the board to do more fundraising. Petty said she, along with the other new members, can provide the skills necessary with marketing and advertising the museum.
“We want to get to [a comfortable] place with fundraising where we can take over maintenance and capital improvement, and develop the museum into something that everyone can be proud of,” Petty said.
Wood did mention the museum is registered as a state and national historical place, which helps with grant money. However, working with the city on a long-term grant is an important part of their future.
“We don’t want history to be lost,” Gunter, said. “We want to make sure the expectations are clear going forward.”
The largest concern among the council was for the City to be diligent when it comes to spending tax dollars.
Farmer acknowledged that not all taxpayers are going to be fans of the museum, despite its historical relevance to the City.
Petty promised that going forward, the museum board can devise appropriate long-, mid-, and short-term plan will help create clear lines of communication between City and the taxpayers. The donations, fundraising, and grants would all be taken into consideration during negotiations for the new lease.
“Our board now has specific [requests] that the City needs from the board so we can continue the lease,” Petty said.
Valenzuela mentioned that the City can continue to extend the timeline of the negotiations until both parties can agree on the parameters of the new lease.
Councilman Harry Thomas noted that creating a long-, mid-, and short-term plan are key with having the City feel more confident about backing the railroad museum. “We are at a spot now where I believe we can negotiate,” Thomas said. “This has been a unique opportunity to have a special session opened for these discussions.”
Thomas added that the key is accountability, and preserving what he considers, “the City’s prized possession.” “The goal would be making sure the museum can remain open and functional for generations to come,” Thomas stated.
New Councilman Tommy Hiebert, SMD 1, weighed in his thoughts on discussion and said that the terms of the leases are “very negotiable.” He added that everyone involved wants to move forward and set the course for the future.
“There’s no doubt about the historical significance that the museum holds for the entire city,” Hiebert said. “It informs us of our history, and can shed some light on where we can grow the city’s downtown area.”
“I’m very happy with being able to talk to with the council,” Wood said. “Now that we’ve began to talk, I think there will finally be some progress made.”
The City and the Museum board will now work together in the next several months to come to an agreement on the new long-term lease, taking into consideration the ideas and needs discussed during yesterday evening's special city council meeting.