• April 14, 2021

Council mixed on museum grant - Odessa American: City Of Odessa

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Council mixed on museum grant

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Posted: Tuesday, March 2, 2021 6:19 pm

Odessa City Council members on Tuesday expressed mixed emotions about the Ellen Noel Art Museum’s grant request for $600,000 to help pay for a proposed $12 million building renovation and expansion project.

Council discussed the grant request for more than one hour during Tuesday’s work session, but did not reach a consensus on the issue or vote to place it on next week’s meeting agenda.

“Just because we have a project that is fundable, should it be funded with economic dollars?” resident Kris Crow said, echoing several similar sentiments expressed by council. “I think there are other entities that are better suited to fund this project.

“If council approves this, what about other museums in town? Are we going to give hundreds of thousands of dollars to other museums?”

Museum officials had originally requested $1.5 million in their Financial Assistance Grant application, but the Odessa Development Corporation is recommending $600,000, Wesley Burnett, director of development for the Odessa Chamber of Commerce, explained during council’s work session meeting.

Councilman Mark Matta raised the possibility of using Hotel Occupancy Tax dollars instead to help fund the museum project. Hotel Occupancy Tax dollars are restricted funds that can only be used to promote tourism efforts.

The hotel tax was a major campaign issue last year for Matta and Mayor Javier Joven who were critical of the previous council’s decision to spend $80,000 on two Christmas trees that were placed at the convention center and the Marriott Hotel. Matta and Joven, along with other residents, complained that those funds could have been better used.

“Is this a good example of using motel, hotel tax funds; putting heads in beds?” Matta asked Burnett and City Manager Mark Marrero.

“Quite possibly,” Marrero responded. “I’ll get with the city attorney to talk about it.”

Councilwoman Detra White expressed reservations about Matta’s idea. White said using the hotel tax dollars could deplete those funds.

“To take that much money ($600,000) from the motel, hotel fund would make quite a dent in the fund,” White said.

Museum Director Shelia Perry said a renovated and expanded facility would allow the museum to construct new and larger galleries, put students in more classrooms, attract more visiting artists and speakers and provide room for major exhibitions. It would attract new residents and visitors to Odessa, she added.

Perry said the current museum is in dire need of improvements.

“The museum is literally falling apart,” Perry said. “It’s being held together by duct tape.”

The bulk of the project’s funding will come from donations raised through a capital campaign effort already underway, Perry said. The campaign has currently raised $2.2 million.

Museum officials hope to raise the $12 million in time for a 2022 ground-breaking and re-open the improved museum in 2023, Perry said.

Councilwoman Mari Willis and Steve Thompson both expressed support for approving the $600,000 grant request. Both council members called it a “quality of life” issue.

“When people move into Odessa, they want to know what’s here,” Willis said. “Families want to know what’s here that will improve the quality of life for their kids.”

What the city offers “should be as diverse as we can be,” Willis added.

“It’s not always about dollars and cents,” Thompson chimed in.

Council did agree that they would return to live council meetings, but haven’t decided if they will start March 9 or 23. Joven said he will discuss the issue with City Manager Marrero and make that decision later this week.

When council resumes their live meetings, they will be separated by dividers to promote social distancing, Marrero said. Council was divided over whether they or residents should still be required to wear face coverings during meetings.

“If we go back to live meetings, I would ask that we would respect each other and continue masking,” Willis said.

Joven argued that trying to require people to wear masks could open up the city to litigation because Texas Governor Greg Abbott on Tuesday announced that he’s lifting the face covering mandate and will be allowing businesses to open up to 100 percent capacity beginning March 10.

“People should take personal responsibility to mask if they feel like,” Joven said.

City Attorney Natasha Brooks told council it will have to vote to rescind the mask mandate, which the former council voted to make a city ordinance.

Council did agree to continue holding virtual work sessions for the immediate future.

Odessa, TX

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