ST. PETERSBURG — Residents packed the room where the city housing authority board met Thursday to implore board members to protect a local museum that focuses on African-American history and culture.
The board, at the request of St. Petersburg College President Bill Law, ultimately voted to hold off on a decision until the museum and the housing board resolve a conflict that has been brewing between the entities.
The Dr. Carter G. Woodson African-American Museum stands at 2240 Ninth Ave. S., a spot the museum’s board of directors has leased from the St. Petersburg Housing Authority for a decade; the authority seeks to end that relationship.
The authority initially sought to invite St. Petersburg College to purchase the building, taking over the museum when its lease is up in mid-July. Housing Authority Director Darryl Irions said before the meeting the department is trying to get rid of its commercial real estate, and the college could provide additional resources to the museum, which is volunteer-run.
“Every time they talk to us they say their volunteers are overworked and they spend their own money,” Irions said. “We’re just hoping that the community comes together.”
The museum’s 501(c)(3) status would have made it impossible for the college to simply absorb the museum, so selling the building could have threatened the nonprofit’s existence. Law emailed the housing authority board ahead of Thursday’s meeting, asking it to hold off “until the relationship between the museum and the housing authority is resolved” and expressing the college’s desire to eventually work with the museum in a way that strengthens its mission.
It was good news for the museum’s advocates.
“I’m grateful that the board of directors saw the museum worthy of further discussion before making such a decision,” said Terri Lipsey-Scott, chair of the museum board. “Needless to say, St. Petersburg College is certainly amenable to becoming a full partner with the Carter G. Woodson, which is what we are likely to see as well.”
The meeting grew contentious, and Lipsey-Scott and other museum advocates said at times they felt disrespected.
Board member Ray Arsenault, a history professor at the University of South Florida-St. Petersburg, said the museum needs to be recognized and supported, given its value for a population that has been historically marginalized and under-served.
“This is just the kind of museum that a city like St. Petersburg should recognize, cultivate, celebrate, because you don’t have too many of these grassroots museums,” he said.
“Even though the housing authority hasn’t come through with the support we thought it would have, it’s really become a focal point for people who care about the African-American community and African-American history in St. Petersburg,” Arsenault said.
It was not determined when the museum and the housing authority will meet to discuss the museum’s lease with the city.