The Alabama Veterans Museum and Archives in Athens is one step closer to moving to a new home, thanks to the Limestone County Commission.
At Tuesday's meeting, commissioners voted unanimously to prepare a deed for conveyance that would give the Limestone County Event Center to the museum. The deed, however, contains a reversionary clause that would transfer the event center back to the county if the building is no longer used as a veterans museum.
Limestone County Attorney Mark Maclin anticipated a final draft of the deed would come before the commission at its next meeting, which could either be the Sept. 11 work session or Sept. 16 regular meeting. He said a final agreement between the county and museum would also include stipulations that the building still be used for the Limestone County Sports Hall of Fame and as a site where county election returns are tabulated.
Near the end of the meeting, commissioners weighed in on why they voted in favor of transferring the center, referred to by former Commission Chairman Stanley Menefee as the “hemorrhoid center.”
“It was a no-brainer for me to cast my vote to proceed with this,” District 2 Commissioner Steve Turner said. “I hope you have good luck going forward.”
District 4 Commissioner Ben Harrison said he had “been a proponent of the museum for a long time,” and was happy the proposal was coming to fruition.
Sandy Thompson, director of the Alabama Veterans Museum and Archives, said she was “happy and excited” about the commission's decision. She and other members of the museum's board, who attended Tuesday's meeting, enjoyed a moment of restrained jubilation following the commission's vote.
“We think this will be a wonderful opportunity for the county and city to really grow this museum,” Thompson said. “We're thankful and appreciative and hope everyone will keep supporting us.”
Thompson said it's too early to tell when the museum would officially open in its new confines, but she was hopeful it would be “within one year.” The museum board had already hired an architect when it was considering building a new home, so Thompson said the architect would help plan out the event center space and how it will be modified to suit the museum.
“We think it will cost much less because the building is already there,” she said. “There are all kinds of things we're contemplating.”
She said there are some aspects of the planned new museum that will carry over to the event center space, including a small theater for films and a virtual reality system that will provide a science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) component to the museum. Thompson said the front portion of the building — including the stage and a yet-to-be-determined amount of space around it — would remain an event center to be rented out to individuals and organizations.
Jerry Crabtree, president of the museum's board, said it was a “great feeling” knowing the event center would be given to the museum.
“We're going to make Limestone County proud,” he said. “It's a wise choice and it's a great day.”
Crabtree said the improved facility would help preserve the history of veterans and the service they provided to the country, state and Limestone County.
Prior to being purchased by the county, the event center, at 110 W. Pryor St. in Athens, was a 20,000-square-foot warehouse used by Pilgrim's Pride for storage. Limestone County paid $130,000 for the building in 2007. It took $2 million to turn it into the event center. The facility was not as successful as anticipated. It does not see steady bookings, and utility costs run about $96,000 per year.
When asked about the increased cost to operate, Thompson said the board was looking at ways to save money. She said there are no plans to charge admission, however.
“We've never contemplated charging a fee because we want people to come in and see it,” she said.