A decision made by the Vermillion City Council in late January became a firm reality Sunday afternoon during the #LOVermillion celebration at the Coyotes men’s basketball game against Oral Roberts at the Sanford Coyotes Sports Center.
During a break in the action, Mayor Jack Powell and Alderman Kelsey Collier-Wise, who serves as the Vermillion City Council’s vice president, presented a check for $700,000 to University of South Dakota President Sheila Gestring, Scott Lawrence, chairman of the National Music Museum Board of Trustees and Larry Schou, dean of the College of Fine Arts at the USD.
The dose of funding from the city will help the renowned National Music Museum, which is located on the USD campus, fund a new 16,000 square foot addition to the west of the current facility. The project, which also includes considerable renovation of the current facility, is scheduled to complete in 2021.
The museum has been closed since last October as its many instruments are being removed from their exhibit areas and stored safely in preparation for the new construction and the renovation of the existing building.
The new multi-level space will include classroom space, a conservation lab, a new photography lab and new offices.
Mayor Powell initiated discussion about the city allocating funds to help pay for the museum’s expansion at the city council’s Jan. 21 meeting.
“I’d like to make some observations about the National Music Museum and its role in our city and, in fact, in our nation,” he said. “It’s a recognized museum that has instruments from all over the world that are one of a kind – you won’t find them anywhere else.
“I think it’s important our community that the museum stays in Vermillion,” Powell said. “There have been overtures to try and move it out of our community – if not the whole museum, then some of the key instruments and those key instruments are what we need as far as that museum is concerned.”
The mayor noted that for the last 20 years, the museum’s board of directors has been trying to figure out a way to expand the museum with more holdings.
“Right now, they’re showing about 7 percent of a collection of about 15,000 documents, instruments, etc. and those documents and instruments are not only in Vermillion,” Powell said. “They’re stored over in Sioux Falls and other communities.”
Many instruments are stored in the basement of Julian Hall on the USD campus in conditions that are not ideal for their preservation. The mayor noted that an earlier plan for the museum’s growth included an addition to the old Coyote Student Center for $20 million. That project was not sustainable, he said, as that amount of money could not be raised.
According to a memo to aldermen from City Manager John Prescott, most of the money for the museum project has been raised, but a $1.3 million shortfall has been identified.
“We have board members from all over the United States,” Powell said. “These people are very interested in the museum – maintaining it, increasing it and improving it. Over time, they’ve questioned how does the city value this facility? I think we value it very highly. It’s one of the attractions that brings people into our community and I think it’s very important that we continue it.”
Powell noted that the expansion planned for the museum has an estimated price tag of $10.5 million. The museum has received pledges and cash toward the project totaling about $7.7 million, with about $2.3 million of that amount in cash.
The university is contributing about $1.5 million to the project by helping with the facility’s heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) improvements, he said, plus they also contribute maintenance to the museum.
“The question was what would the city be willing to do and the first number that they (National Music Museum representatives) said is ‘would the city be willing to do $1 million?’ the mayor said. “I said that I didn’t think so; I thought that was little rich for us.”
Powell said he told museum representatives that he thought the city would contribute at least $500,000 over a number of years.
“We certainly couldn’t do it in one year, and so that’s what’s being proposed. I think it’s up to the council to have discussion on this at this point in time,” the mayor said.
Alderman Rich Holland noted that both he and his wife were born and raised in California.
“The sole reason that we moved from California to here is because we both were very active in an early music society, playing early music, Shakespeare and so forth, throughout California,” he said.
Holland said one of their instructors told the Hollands “they have to go to Vermillion – they have a National Music Museum and it’s fantastic. That was probably the main reason that my wife and I packed up and came here to South Dakota and moved directly to Vermillion.”
USD doesn’t offer an early music program “but we’re still working on developing it. The museum has been phenomenal; it is phenomenal. We constantly tell our friends back in California what is here,” he said. “… I think it is a great benefit to the city and it is, at least in California, well known as well as in other places in the world.
“I am certainly in favor of supporting it,” he said. “I would like to propose that we support it to the tune of $100,000 a year for 10 years.”
“I wonder if maybe we could meet in the middle between the initial request and what Rich has suggested – maybe something like $700,000 over seven years,” said Alderman Kelsey Collier-Wise. “That’s maybe doing a little bit more than what we were originally looking at but then $1 million does seem like a lot. I would not be surprised if there are other things we may need to help with later on down the road and 10 years is quite a ways away, but I do feel like we could make a substantial impact with $700,000.”
“If we do something that’s substantial enough, it will keep this project moving. Is that the way that I understand it?” asked Alderman Tom Sorensen.
“That’s correct,” Powell replied.
Sorensen said he didn’t want to put “city staff into a corner” with a rapid decision on the funding if they aren’t prepared to handle an allocation of the suggested amount.
“What do you prefer that we do?” he asked both Finance Officer Mike Carlson and City Manager John Prescott. “Should we talk about it some more and then come back, or are we ready to make a motion on it?”
“I think we should give John and Mike, either or both, an opportunity to tell us where they think we could have the monies, but I’d like to see us do something tonight,” Powell said.
“We would suggest that it primarily come from the second penny fund,” Prescott said. “As the council knows and the community may not be as familiar with it, the second penny is a sales tax we predominately use for capital expenditures, although last year you did adopt an ordinance that would allow, if need be, an opportunity to use some of that for operating costs.”
He noted that back in 2008, the city worked with the university in making a $340,000 contribution over five years to help with USD’s wellness center project. Those funds came from the city’s second penny fund.
“With respect to a source, we would recommend second penny where you would take that from and it is a capital investment that they’re talking about at this point in time,” Prescott said, “so it matches up with what your adopted ordinance does say.
“With respect to the timing on it, quite honestly the only things that we have a commitment on are the city hall debt service – that’s coming out of the second penny and you’re obligated to pay that, but each year, you as the council decide how to obligate that money so you would have the latitude,” he said.
Prescott suggested that if the council was to decide to make multi-year payments to the National Music Musuem, that it makes a payment this year.
“In 2019, we do have some second penny money that’s unallocated,” he said. “Second penny is one of those (funds) that, in some years, we’ve spent more than what’s brought in and some years we don’t. That’s simply due to the fact that it’s kind of a savings account, so to speak, that we use to fund large projects with.”
About five years ago, Prescott said, about $1 million the city had accumulated in the second penny fund was used to pay for the expansion of the Edith B. Siegrist Vermillion Public Library.
“I recommend that (the second penny fund) as your source,” he said. “Each year you will have the ability to decide what the priorities are for that money.”
The city’s Bed, Board and Booze (BBB) fund also could be a source of revenue. Money from this fund comes from a city tax on lodging and alcohol sales and is used for economic and tourism development.
Prescott noted that the National Music Museum is one of the top tourist destinations in Vermillion.
“I think, then, it would qualify for the use of that fund,” he said. “We haven’t, historically, had as much unobligated money in our Bed, Board and Booze fund. It (the museum expansion) would certainly be a legal, permissible category to use that money for.”
Further discussion by aldermen and Prescott dealt with other future financial obligations the city may face, including the planned downtown project, assistance with help in proposed improvements to the public safety center and the idea of constructing a new community center in Vermillion.
Alderman Howard Willson said he favors the 10-year/$100,000 per year idea that had been proposed because the National Music Museum is an important asset to Vermillion. He added that he wanted assurances from Carlson and Prescott about whether they were comfortable with that plan or whether they felt the city would be better to donate a smaller yearly amount.
“I think we should try to go as much as we can without strapping ourselves too tight,” Willson said, “because I think the museum is a real asset to the community and is something we should be very proud of and are very proud of and we want to show how proud we are.”
“The funding source for this project – so long as they had a commitment whether it be seven year, $100,000, or 10 years, $100,000 – that type of commitment would allow them to fill in that gap that they have in that construction part of the project,” said Nate Welch, executive director of the Vermillion Chamber and Development Company who also serves as treasurer on the National Music Museum Board of Trustees. “They’ve got some mechanisms to allow them on the cash flow to be able to meet all of the requirements for the construction in that time.”
“Would you be able to go forward with the project with $700,000?” Collier-Wise asked Welch.
“Yes, with the $700,000, we’d be able to move forward with the project,” he said. “With the interest that the city has shown in allowing this discussion, I can tell you that a few of the other board members and contributors have seen the city be willing to have this discussion and step up and have been able to also, with that type of commitment (from the city) of seven years and $100,000 each year – that would allow to fill in the gap that they have.”