Relocating Miss. Art Museum Depends on FEMA, Insurance Monies

December 13, 2006

The possibility of locating the Ohr-O’Keefe Museum of Art back in downtown Biloxi and abandoning its storm-damaged and incomplete beachfront site designed by Frank Gehry is one of the options museum leaders are considering, but until insurance and FEMA money is received, no decision will be made.

At the time Katrina hit, about $20 million had been invested in the new museum. A downtown site could possibly be in its pre-storm quarters in the Biloxi Library building, once repairs there are made.

“Everybody involved with the museum would love to see it right where it is and completed,” said Jerry O’Keefe, chairman of its finance committee, “but we have to locate the money before we can make the decision. In the meantime, we are going to be looking at all of our options, including the city’s offer.”

Biloxi Mayor A.J. Holloway said the city did not initiate any offer to the museum, but responded to a museum representative’s query about relocating the museum to the library. It is now operating in a city-owned historic house on Glenn L. Swetman Drive.

The museum’s leadership board last week voted to do nothing about either location right now.

“We decided we would continue on in a holding pattern and do everything possible to go to the beach if the resources are available,” said board President Larry Clark. “The will of the people in that meeting was we want to try to continue to see this thing through.”

Gehry, the acclaimed architect who designed the new campus, pledged to help.

In an e-mail received Monday from Gehry Partners in California and read to the Sun Herald by Margie Gowdy, executive director of Ohr, the firm said it “continues to support the plan to continue the construction of the Ohr-O’Keefe Museum on the original site on U.S. 90. We will aid in the planning of the completion of construction and in any other way that moves the project forward. Frank Gehry will personally help with fundraising in this area.”

The beachfront property is sandwiched between the site of the old Tivoli Hotel, which developers recently proposed rezoning for a casino, and the Boys and Girls Club property, which has been purchased by Harrah’s Entertainment.

The Ohr property there is cited in two Biloxi revitalization plans as part of an art and cultural district that includes the Maritime Museum and the Schooner Pier across the highway. The museum has a 99-year lease on the property granted by the city, but wouldn’t need it any more, O’Keefe said, if the museum were to locate elsewhere.

“It’s kind of up in the air…,” O’Keefe said, “but that has not been turned down.”

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