Kentucky African-American Landmark Struggling To Stay Open

The Kentucky Center for African American Heritage is struggling to keep its doors open despite $15 million in investments since a renovation in the late 1990s.

The complex in Louisville’s Russell neighborhood has operated almost exclusively as a meeting venue — primarily with space rentals helping to meet expenses — since a substantial renovation in 2009.

Work on the center has proceeded in fits and starts and was halted at one point for two years amid a state audit that found primarily federal money earmarked for the project was being mismanaged.

Center spokeswoman Sue McNally conceded to The Louisville Courier-Journal that progress has not moved as quickly as hoped on turning the center into a focal point of Kentucky’s African-American culture.

“We don’t want to rehash the past, and we have not moved as fast as we had hoped,” she said, “but we have made progress.”

Businessman Raymond Burse, chairman of the foundation overseeing the center, said the board doesn’t have the money to pay a $705,000 court-ordered judgment to The Mardrian Group, or TMG. That’s money that the one-time main contractor on the renovation was never paid. And he said it also is unable to pay a $1.8 million loan long owed to Fifth Third Bank.

Burse said he is trying to negotiate a way out of the debt mire.

Teresa Bridgewaters, TMG’s president, said her company has been hurt by non-payment of the debt and that the contractor isn’t in a financial position to forgo payment. TMG officials said they haven’t ruled out trying to collect from the city of Louisville, which owns the property and leases it to the foundation for $1 a year.

The center had about $500,000 in income last fiscal year, with some revenue coming from two foundation fundraisers; the city’s annual donation of $130,000 for security and property upkeep; and gifts from AT&T, Yum! Brands and other corporations.

About 40 percent of the income came from the rental of space with a one-time cost to rent the main hall running about $5,000, McNally said.

Officials said nearly all the income went for operations.

Chris Poynter, a spokesman for Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer, said the city intends to keep the annual $130,000 contribution to the center intact.

“We want the museum and heritage center there, but obviously, it will take a lot of work and fundraising. It is a good location and a beautiful setting,” Poynter said.

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