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VOL. 132 | NO. 100 | Friday, May 19, 2017

Hackett Retires From CMOM to Devote Effort to Grand Carousel Fundraising

By Bill Dries

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Former Memphis Mayor Richard C. Hackett is retiring as CEO of the Children’s Museum of Memphis in June to devote his attention to fundraising for the institution he helped create 30 years ago. Hackett became leader of the museum in 2006.

“I’ll shift my emphasis to, on my own, raising money for the Carousel building,” Hackett told The Daily News. “It’s two businesses and there’s no way one person could do both.”

“Five days a week is plenty for me right now,” he added. “I’m a strong, strong believer philosophically of being on the other side of the counter with the customer and I want to see what the customer sees.”

The immediate goal is to raise the $4 million to $5 million balance to pay for the construction of the building that will house the restored Grand Carousel as well as a banquet hall, founders hall, education space and round pavilion. The museum has already raised the $1.2 million to have the carousel itself restored.

The museum has a bit of a head start on the rest with a $500,000 challenge grant from the Assisi Foundation that requires the raising of an additional $2 million. Hackett said that part of the effort should be done by the end of the year at about the time the Grand Carousel debuts.

“A lot of people say, ‘You are building and you don’t have your money raised,’” Hackett said, talking about the difference between contributors seeing a rendering and being able to walk through a building as it is taking shape.

“There’s a feel to that,” he said. “I think the round part of the building gives you a feeling that you don’t get anywhere else in town. I think without a doubt it will be an icon for the city.”

The group Friends of the Fairgrounds got the first group tour of the building Thursday evening before its meeting in the museum. And Hackett said the reaction from a group of 100 citizens who are watching development of the Fairgrounds closely confirms his belief in having something physical to show the public.

“I think most everybody left there surprised, overwhelmed and impressed because it’s a lot more than they had dreamed about,” he said.

The 1909 Dentzel carousel bought by the Fairgrounds Amusement Park of Memphis in 1923 is undergoing restoration by Carousels and Carvings of Marion, Ohio with a reassembly at CMOM later this year.

The $6 million Grand Carousel project at the Children’s Museum of Memphis is moving to a fundraising appeal with restoration of the carousel almost complete and construction underway. “Friends of the Fairgrounds” got the first group tour Thursday; May 18. (Daily News/Bill Dries)

“The kids are now calling it the onion dome building,” said museum co-chairman James Rout III as he showed the Fairgrounds group of 100 around the site which will include a stable-like setting before children and their parents go into the round room that will be home to the all-horse carousel and its organ.

“This is considered art which you can actually hear and touch,” he said.

The building is designed by Design Shop and Montgomery Martin Contractors is the contractor.

The carousel was repaired in Philadelphia before it arrived in Memphis in the 1920s following a fire at the Forest Park Amusement Park in Chicago. It became part of the Libertyland theme park at the Fairgrounds from 1976 to that park’s closing in 2005. It was later taken apart and put in crates that were stored for a decade in the nearby mothballed Mid-South Coliseum in trailers.

Friends of the Fairgrounds is pursuing and building support for a comprehensive plan for a redevelopment of the entire Fairgrounds property that takes in nearby Tobey Park for a combined 168 acres of public land.

Hackett has watched the Fairgrounds plans that have come and gone closely from the museum’s corner at Hollywood and Central in what was once a National Guard armory.

“Everything there has to work hand in glove and compliment one another,” he said. “The biggest issue you have there in my opinion is the limited parking because of the Liberty Bowl. At any game, it puts pressure on all of the neighbors. It puts pressure on our business.”

Because of its appeal to adults as well as children, Hackett said the Grand Carousel could become a fourth anchor for the Fairgrounds along with CMOM, the Salvation Army Kroc Center and Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium.

“I think Midtown is the heart of Memphis,” Hackett said. “That development … is huge to the city’s future and it’s huge to the people like Christian Brothers University, like the University of Memphis, like all the people that have houses in the Midtown area, all of the businesses that are continually developing in the Midtown area. The Children’s Museum has a positive impact on that quality of life issue for those families that visit and live in that area.”

It was in 1987 that a group of citizens came to Hackett as mayor seeking a site for a museum like ones they had seen in other cities. They looked at several sites including the one-time sanctuary of Bellevue Baptist Church that is now home to Mississippi Boulevard Christian Church before settling on the Fairgrounds site.

During Hackett’s tenure as CMOM CEO, museum memberships have grown from 1,500 families to 7,000. In that time, the entire museum has been renovated all over again.

“There’s a business philosophy that if you want to or need to grow your numbers you have to add something new,” Hackett said. “That’s a philosophy that I really strongly subscribe to – new additions and change. If you want things to stay the same, leave them the same. I don’t want things to stay the same. The board didn’t want things to stay the same. So we did not leave them the same.”

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