Proposed history museum in Bristol on hold, in jeopardy
Fundraising difficulties have forced the RI Heritage Hall of Fame to to put plans for Bristol location on hold
Plans to build a statewide history museum in Bristol are on hold and may be in jeopardy after fundraising efforts have fallen flat.
The Rhode Island Heritage Hall of Fame, which immortalizes prominent Rhode island residents but has no physical location, has been planning on constructing a Roman Pantheon-style building on two acres of land on Metacom Avenue near Roger Williams University for more than a year. The Hall of Fame would be a “living” history museum, telling Rhode Island’s history through the prominent men and women enshrined in its halls, according to Patrick Conley, a Bristol resident who serves as president of the hall’s board of directors.
“The inductees will come down from its walls and actively engage students and the general public in a continuing dialogue about Rhode Island and our state’s contributions to America and the world at large,” the Heritage Foundation’s website reads. “It will be a ‘living’ Hall of Fame by relating our history through the narratives of its achievers.”
But Roger Williams, Gilbert Stuart and Anne Hutchinson won’t be climbing down from the walls in Bristol any time soon, if at all. They and the hundreds of other inductees will, at the very least, have to wait a while for a new home, as the Hall of Fame Board of Directors has found it difficult to raise the necessary funds for the construction.
“We’ve put it on hold; the fundraising drive was a disappointment,” Mr. Conley said this week. “We need someone to step forward to acquire the property. If no one steps forward, the project will be abandoned.”
The hall of fame has an agreement to buy the vacant 2.4 acres near the corner of Metacom and Griswold Avenues from former Town Councilman Halsey Herreshoff for $600,000 — a price Mr. Conley has said is well below market value for that piece of land. The board estimates acquisition and construction costs would total about $10 million.
The plan was to kick off the fundraising privately before asking the state General Assembly to put a bond referendum on the 2018 statewide ballot for the remainder of the cost. Mr. Conley said the board is approaching a number of foundations seeking money for the museum, but he won’t ask Rhode Island taxpayers to borrow money until the board establishes a financial base.
“We wouldn’t go forward with a bond issue if we can’t raise money privately,” Mr. Conley said. “Right now, we are not succeeding in that effort.”
Securing the funding and buying the land would only be the first steps in the process, which includes getting the necessary go-ahead from the town. The land is zoned residential, so would require a special use permit from the town Zoning Board, Community Development Director Diane Williamson has said. It would also need wetlands permits to build on the wooded land just to the north of the Maher Center on the RWU campus, as well as a state Department of Transportation permit to make a curb cut on a state road.
The RI Heritage Hall of Fame museum would combine visual technology with in-person actors to bring history to life for visitors, the group’s website touts. More than 750 prominent Rhode Islanders from all walks of life have been enshrined, with more inducted each year. The hall just announced this year’s inductees last month. The artifacts associated with the inductees that would be included in the museum are housed in a warehouse in Providence.