Holloway says Ohr, others should look to private sector

Mayor A.J. Holloway says he realizes that promoting and preserving history and culture are important for a 300-plus-year-old community such as Biloxi, but he told a Biloxi Chamber audience this morning that it’s unfair to taxpayers for the city to be asked to provide funding when it’s struggling itself.

The mayor’s comments were made as the Ohr-O’Keefe Museum of Art, which partially opened its $35 million campus in November, has announced that it is almost out of operating cash because of fewer than expected visitors and higher than expected operating costs.

The museum, which had a management agreement with the city to operate a museum in the Katrina-destroyed Biloxi Public Library, has approached the city about resurrecting that agreement for its new museum, or entering a new one for as much as $20,000 a month to help cover operating expenses, which include a $9,000 monthly electric bill.

Councilmembers tabled both suggestions months ago.

“Since I’ve been mayor, the city has invested millions of dollars, not only in the Ohr museum, but in the Seafood and Mardi Gras museums,” Holloway told the Biloxi Chamber “Breakfast with the Mayor” audience this morning at the Hard Rock’s Vibe restaurant. “Then consider what we’ve done over the years on the Saenger, the Old Brick House and the list goes on.”

For the Ohr alone, the mayor said, the city has invested about $8 million. That figures includes $3.35 million for the purchase of the site; more than $2 million for construction; salary and benefits for a fulltime employee; annual support of the Ohr Fall Festival of the Arts; and a management agreement that grew from $36,000 a year in 1995 to more than $100,000 a year from 2002 to 2005, when it ended with Katrina’s destruction of the downtown museum.

“The problem,” the mayor said, “is that these subsidies have come to be looked upon as entitlements. And when people see the city struggling to maintain its level of services, they wonder about their tax dollars being spent on bigger museums with bigger expenses.”

Said the mayor: “Some would argue, and I would agree, that there needs to be more private sector support for these museums. The city can only do so much, and I think we’re being asked to do too much in these cases. It’s not fair to the taxpayers.”

The mayor said that supporters of the museum – and the seafood museum — should seek financial support from the private sector.

“And that,” he said, “means convincing the private sector to make the same type of investment that the city has made.”

Complete text: The mayor also discussed a number of other issues this morning: city finances, new businesses, and tourism, which led to the introduction of Beth Carriere, new director of the Mississippi Gulf Coast Convention and Visitors Bureau. To read the complete text of the mayor’s comments, click here.

Photos: To see more than 80 photos from this morning’s breakfast,
click here.

News and notes

Austere times: The City Council will be spending the next several weeks reviewing a budget plan that proposes to continue restrictive spending and other cost-cutting measures. To read the story, click here.

School days: Public schools in Biloxi will have their first day of classes Thursday morning. Motorists are reminded to use extra caution in and around school zones. Crossing guards will be in place, and a heightened police presence police is planned near schools. To read more about Biloxi Public Schools,
click here.

Historic writings: Edmond Boudreaux will have a book signing this month for his first book, “The Seafood Capital of the World.” To read more about the gathering and Boudreaux, and to read excerpts from the book, click here.