For starters it’s a rehash of a story that ran on Alabama.com last fall. Minus, of course, some of the positive points the proposed Birmingham Negro Leagues museum will have that KC’s Negro League’s museum doesn’t.
“What we don’t want to happen is a museum just for the sake of history,” says Chuck Faush, chief of staff to Birmingham Mayor William Bell. “It has to be living, breathing history.”
A museum with fewer static artifacts like KC’s and “more focus on interactive technology than stagnant displays,” Fausch says. “We’re taking a 21st Century approach that historians and enthusiasts alike are going to want to be interactive. It’s going to have to be an experience.”
That’s undoubtedly one reason Kansas City’s Negro Leagues museum is worried.
And opening up a satellite branch in a former YMCA on the Paseo hardly seems a cure.
KC’s Negro Leagues museum can barely keep its doors open and in the black at its main branch – and then only because of the grant money it receives. Who’s going to want to junket to a YMCA however many blocks away?
And once Birmingham is up and running will the grant money KC is receiving have to be shared with Birmingham? Will it boil down to a zero sum game with both Negro League museums fishing for the same grant graft?
That Birmingham’s Negro Leagues museum “is fully funded and construction is ongoing” and the chairman of the Alabama Negro League’s Foundation says the museum has $5 million worth of artifacts lined up for its launch.
To which KC Negro Leagues main man Bob Kendrick counters, “We’ve done such a great job telling the story of the Negro Leagues that we’ve driven up the price of these artifacts. In some ways, we’ve become our worst enemy.”
Speaking of worst enemies…
What may be the KC Negro League museum’s absolute worst is its present location. And that’s something likely to be worsened by branching out to the Paseo.
“One challenge facing the museum is not being near popular t
ourist destinations like the Country Club Plaza and the Crown Center area south of downtown,” the New York Times wrote last year. “There has been a lingering perception that the 18th and Vine neighborhood, though significantly different from the tattered area it was 30 years ago, is still unsafe.”
In fact, Birmingham may not be KC Negro League’s only problem.
“Over the years, some have proposed moving the museum to the area that includes Kauffman Stadium and Arrowhead Stadium, the Kansas City Chiefs’ home, or folding it into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y.,” the Times adds.
To which Kendrick’ replies weakly that tough times could bring more visitors here.
“The economy has made people want to stay a little closer to home,” he told the Times.
And while the Times reports that KC’s Negro Leagues museum struggles to get 50,000 attendees annually (according to its 2012 tax filing that number rose to 65,000 with the All Star Game played here last year), the College Basketball Experience at Sprint Center boasts a yearly attendance nearing 400,000, according to the Kansas City Convention & Visitors Association.
And while that frankly sounds a bit trumped up, its location is far superior to that of the Negro Leagues, it’s more interactive like Birmingham’s plans to be and it does relatively well in spite of the fact that it competes with the more established Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass. (founded in 1959).
So yes, there is a Negro Leagues museum controversy, but it’s a little more complex than the version of the story Kansas Citians were fed yesterday.