City councilors expressed support Wednesday for Mayor G.T. Bynum’s decision to build a new Gilcrease Museum rather than renovate and expand the existing structure.
“I for one am very excited about this,” said Councilor Lori Decter Wright.
Tulsans approved a $65 million renovation and expansion of the museum as part of the 2016 Vision Tulsa sales tax package. But a recent analysis conducted by SmithGroup found that the museum building is in poor condition and would cost more to renovate and expand than to build anew.
Councilors were shown a rendering comprising the five buildings that make up the museum. The oldest, the carriage house, was built in 1913. The museum opened in 1949.
“With this kind of Frankenstein that has been cobbled together over the years, you have a tremendous amount of wasted space there, with hallways that don’t go anywhere, you have stairwells that are dead ends,” Bynum said.
The new 89,000-square-foot museum will have a smaller footprint than the existing facility but will provide more exhibit space, Bynum said. It will also be the only museum in the state capable of housing major traveling shows, the mayor said.
“And probably most importantly, we have a museum that can safely hold maybe the greatest collection of American art and history in the country that isn’t owned by the federal government,” Bynum said.
Gilcrease Museum Executive Director Susan Neal said architects will work to identify original sections of the museum and attempt to incorporate them into the new building in some way.
“Before there is demolition, they will do pinpoint exploration to determine what is left,” she said.
Councilor Kara Joy McKee said she has heard from constituents who have said the city’s priority should be preserving its important structures.
McKee said she has politely reminded them that securing the museum’s $2 billion collection must be the top priority.
“The most important thing is the preservation and the display and the showing of the collection,” McKee said. “It is an amazing collection.”
The city will hold public meetings in late March and April to give Tulsans an opportunity to comment on the interpretive plan that lays out how stories will be told and how the museum’s collection will be displayed. The intent of the meetings is to ensure that the interpretive plan reflects the diversity of the community, Neal said.
Councilor Phil Lakin was on the mayor’s task force that recommended the city build a new museum. The final decision was Bynum’s.
“This just gives us an opportunity to start with a clean slate and do this thing to 21st century standards,” Lakin said.
Councilor Jeannie Cue also expressed support for the new construction but said it was important that the city keep the public informed throughout the design and construction process “because it is something near and dear to so many of us.”
Speaking after the committee meeting, Neal said the city will hold meetings over the next couple of years to keep the public updated on the design process.
Design and construction are expected to take four years.
The city has $83.6 million for the project. In addition to the $65 million in Vision Tulsa funding, $8.6 million in Improve Our Tulsa funds has been allocated for the project.
The University of Tulsa, which operates the museum for the city, has received a $10 million donation for the construction from the A.R. and Marylouise Tandy Foundation.
TU has raised more than half of the $50 million endowment it committed to as part of the Vision Tulsa package, but the funds — which could be used for operations and capital programs — cannot be used for the design and construction of the museum, Neal said.
The Thomas Gilcrease Museum was established by Tulsa oilman Thomas Gilcrease in 1949 as a private museum. The museum was built next to Gilcrease’s home northwest of downtown Tulsa in Osage County.
The city took ownership of the museum and its collection in the 1950s. The University of Tulsa took over management of the museum in 2008.
Gallery: Gilcrease Museum through the years