MOHAI Supporters Pack City Council Meeting, But Not Everyone Thinks It Deserves City Cash

Maggie Walker, co-president of the Museum of History and Industry Board of Trustees turned around at today's city council meeting and asked how many people in the packed room were there to support the museum in its spat with Mayor Mike McGinn over a promised $7 million to $8 million payment to MOHAI when the city sells the land below its current location to the state as part of the 520 expansion plan. McGinn wanted to reneg. Almost everyone seated stood and the people at the back of the room stepped forward, many raising a hand.

But not Kenyatto Amen. He squatted.

"I'm not against anyone," Amen clarified later outside council chambers. He just doesn't think the city should be spending money on a private non-profit that seems to be doing well on its own.

Amen is the athletic director at the Umoja Peace Center, a project started by Omari Tahir Garrett and his son Wyking. The two famously had a falling out with the Urban League over attempts to turn the abandoned Coleman School into an African American Heritage Museum. Now Umoja occupies two houses at the corner of 24th and Cherry, and according to Amen, they need money to support programs they plan to put on for at-risk kids in the neighborhood.

"If you can get money from the private sector, why are you dipping into the purse for the public sector," he asked rhetorically, noting that the number of people who showed up on the museum's behalf seemed to suggest it wouldn't have problems fundraising.

"We're not asking for all of MOHAI's money," he added. "Just a little bit."

Today the city council voted 8-0 to go ahead and give MOHAI an estimated $7 million to $8 million whenever it sells the land underneath the museum's current location to the state as planned. In the meantime, the city is acting as the go-between for an additional $40 million the state is sending to MOHAI to offset the cost of its move. Today MOHAI and the city council agreed to allow the city to temporarily hang on to $8.5 million of that $40 mil to help it deal with its current budget shortfall.

McGinn also opposes that deal, saying it will do nothing to solve the city's long-term budget problems.

Regardless more money will be available to the city in planning next year's budget thanks to the council's vote today. But with so many other potential cuts--the mayor is proposing to ax 294 positions, cut library and community center hours, and hike parking fees among other things--it seems unlikely that the city council will be increasing the city's expenses by sending money to organizations like Umoja.

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