The Columbus-Lowndes Convention and Visitors Bureau is moving into early fundraising stages for restoring the Elks Lodge building downtown before converting it to a children’s museum.
Organization CEO Nancy Carpenter said during Monday’s CVB board meeting the restoration will cost about $700,000. Carpenter said the work will ensure everything is brought up to modern building codes, adhere to Americans with Disabilities Act standards, and install a new elevator and HVAC system.
Carpenter said she wants the CVB to raise half of the money before requesting expenditure from the board. She said some efforts are already underway — the organization should receive a $20,000 gift soon, and she added CVB recently applied for a $40,000 grant. CVB will continue to seek additional funding sources, but Carpenter noted the organization will wait until later in the spring or summer to ramp up fundraising efforts.
“Once we have roughly $350,000 in hand, we will feel good about moving forward,” Carpenter told The Dispatch after the board meeting. “At some point, what we’re going to do is ask for commitments from businesses and individuals, but we’re not at that stage yet.”
Carpenter also noted CVB will work alongside the Mississippi Department of Archives and History on the project, because the Elks Lodge is a historic building.
CVB board member Mark Castleberry, a local developer, has been working with Carpenter on the early stages of the museum.
“We’re very excited about how it’s progressing,” he said. “We feel very good about the plans that the architect and exhibit designer have developed. I think we have a challenge to get it funded, but I think it’s very possible through phases.”
Total project cost estimates
CVB purchased the Elks Lodge, located on Main Street across from the Tennessee Williams home, from Frank and Dean Loftus in December 2015 for $450,000, with the Loftuses donating $200,000 of the total $650,000 purchase price.
CVB is working with the Jackson-based Dale Partners architect firm and Dublin, Ohio-based designer Roto to plan the museum.
Carpenter said the museum may cost between $3.5 million and $5 million total. The cost is higher than a preliminary $1.5 million estimate, but she said the initial estimate did not include costs such as restoring the building.
The museum’s first floor will be divided into three main rooms, Carpenter said, that should be large enough to accommodate 10 to 15 people at a time. The top floor will have a catering kitchen and a ballroom that can be used for events independent of the children’s museum, Carpenter said.
She said the museum will tie all of its themes to Columbus and Lowndes County, and should have enough material for visitors to spend about 90 minutes.
“We have so much rich history ourselves that we’re going to make sure our story is told,” Carpenter said. “Those stories about Columbus and Lowndes County are going to be at the forefront of every room.”
Alex Holloway was formerly a reporter with The Dispatch.