Photo | Lagniappe
The Mobile City Council rejected Mayor Sandy Stimpson’s plan to shore up the cash-strapped GulfQuest by cutting funding to the library system and discretionary accounts.
A potential deal to fully fund GulfQuest Maritime Museum of the Gulf of Mexico in the fiscal year 2019 budget will not move forward, according to a letter from Mayor Sandy Stimpson to Mobile City Council President Levon Manzie.
In the letter, Stimpson cites the council’s lack of interest in the plan for the reason it isn’t moving forward.
“Regretfully, as you informed me during our phone call, the council was not open to any of the options proposed by my administration,” Stimpson wrote. “Those options included a combination of discretionary funds allocated to the mayor and City Council, cost savings achieved by leaving several city staff positions unfilled and a reduction of the council’s proposed budget increase to the Mobile Public Library.”
As part of the deal, Stimpson asked to cut the library’s budget by $125,000 and to take $25,000 each from the discretionary accounts of the councilors and the mayor’s office. Stimpson also told councilors he wouldn’t fund three positions at the museum.
Before passing the budget, councilors restored almost $500,000 in funding to the library.
In a phone interview, Manzie said the deal was a nonstarter because the council had made fully funding the library a priority.
“I knew the idea wouldn’t go far,” he said.
However, Manzie said the council remains open to finding a “short-term fix.”
Before passing the 2019 budget on Sept. 25, the Mobile City Council cut almost $500,000 from the roughly $1 million GulfQuest was receiving in local public funds. Those funds paid salaries for nine of 18 positions at the museum. For weeks following the cuts, councilors have asked Stimpson’s office to put forth a budget amendment in order to help find a solution.
City spokeswoman Laura Byrne said the museum was a top priority for the administration, given the potential financially liability tied into more than $20 million in federal grants used for the building and surrounding landing.
Stimpson reminded councilors of the financial situation in his letter. He wrote that the city could be forced to pay that money back if the museum closes.
Councilman John Williams said he would have voted against the proposal because it wasn’t really a compromise.
“Essentially, he [Stimpson] gave up nothing of any substance and the council had to give up $25,000 each in discretionary, and funding for the library,” Williams said.
In the letter, Stimpson pointed out councilors weren’t comfortable giving up discretionary funds, “which have increased significantly in recent years.” Stimpson also stated the deal would hinge on his rehiring of council spokeswoman Marion Steinfels.
“You further stated that, based on your polling of the council, no proposal from the administration would be acceptable unless I met your demand to allow you to rehire a former employee,” he wrote. “I simply cannot agree to such an ultimatum and therefore will not be submitting a budget amendment.”
Instead, Stimpson wrote that he would work with his staff, the federal government and the museum board on an alternative.
Councilors had mixed reactions to the administration’s plans to expand the dining options at GulfQuest and find a local vendor to run it. City officials recently held a meeting to court restaurateurs interested in taking on the museum’s restaurant, The Galley, with a new container bar and outside seating option. At the meeting, officials disclosed the restaurant only brought in about $10,000 per year.
Manzie, who represents the downtown area on the council, said he thought adding outdoor seating at the restaurant was an “awesome” idea
Williams said he’s not sure how successful an eatery will be at the location, considering how hard it is, currently, to get there. He joked that diners could rappel there off of the new Interstate 10 bridge when it’s built and have “the most exciting dinner ever.”
The biggest issue for Williams is parking and the current layout of Water Street.
“I think it’s a great location, but I’m not going to walk a quarter mile to do it,” he said. “I just don’t know where you are going to get the people from. I don’t understand how you’re going to get the traffic to do it right now.”
Councilman Fred Richardson said this is something the city should’ve thought of when it first took over the museum in late 2016. He said it’s time to finally repurpose the whole building.
“They should do that for the entire museum,” Richardson said. “There has been no effort to repurpose it.”
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