June 23, 2015

State official to visit Graveyard Museum,
discuss bond proposal to finally finish it


North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources Secretary Susan Kluttz will host a discussion of Gov. Pat McCrory's  new "Connect NC" bond proposal on Thursday, June 25, at 11 a.m. at the Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum in Hatteras village.

The governor's $2.85 billion bond proposal, which must be approved by both the General Assembly in this session and voters in November, includes $3.5 million to fabricate and install the permanent exhibits in the museum, which has been in the planning stages longer than the Bonner Bridge replacement.

The permanent exhibits are all that remains to be done to complete the museum, which  showcases the maritime history, culture, and heritage of the Outer Banks through the stories of the many ships that have wrecked on the dangerous offshore shoals known to all as the Graveyard of the Atlantic.

Effort to establish a shipwreck museum on the island began in the 1980s as the dream of a small group of Hatteras villagers.

In 1973, the wreck of the famous Civil War ironclad, the USS Monitor, which sunk in a storm on New Year's Eve 1862, was discovered southeast of Cape Hatteras. And by the 1980s, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration was asking for proposals for housing the ship's artifacts.

Hatteras village did not win the competition for the Monitor artifacts, but the dream of a museum was pursued by a private, non-profit group of volunteers who were determined to honor the maritime history of the island.

The group partnered with NOAA and the National Park Service.  In 1995, the board hired Joseph Schwarzer as the museum's executive director to help get them get the museum established.  The shell of the current museum was completed in 2000 through community fundraising, grants, and funds from NOAA and Dare County.

In 2003, the museum, though not yet completed, was opened to the public so locals and visitors could see many of the artifacts that were being accumulated, many of them through donations from island families.

In 2005, the historic 6,000-pound bronze and crystal Fresnel lens from the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse was reconstructed in the lobby of the Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum and is on display there, on its pedestal. The exhibit hall was completed in 2006.

In 2007, the board of the non-profit founding group voted to accept an offer for the museum to become part of the state's maritime museum system. At the same time, Schwarzer became executive director of North Carolina's three maritime museums.

Since it was opened, the museum has grown in prestige and visitation even though it is still not completed.

The most recent biennial report on the museum, Schwarzer said, showed visitation at more than 174,000 in the two-year period. With outreach programs, the museum has reached more than 195,000 people, and more than 9 million visited the website.

Since the museum is not completed, no entrance fee is charged, but visitors are encouraged to make donations.

Still remaining is the task of designing, fabricating, and installing the permanent exhibits for the 1,600-foot lobby and the 5,500-foot galleries. Schwarzer said in the interview this spring that the final design for the permanent exhibits should be completed by the end of the year.  At that time, he pegged the cost of fabricating and installing them at about $3 million but said he was not sure how the funding would be secured.

Connect NC is Gov. McCrory's $2.85 billion bond proposal for strategic investments in the state's transportation and other public infrastructure "that aims to cultivate a stronger economy, increased jobs and improve North Carolina's quality of life."

The proposed bonds will benefit projects from the mountains to the Piedmont to the coast with investments in 64 counties across the state. Projects include investments in both small rural areas and large urban cities. Strategic investments have been selected considering agency priority, the size of the project, and location.
"Currently, interest rates are historically low," says Kluttz, "so timing is good for this targeted, long-term investment in our state's future. I am thrilled that the Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum will be able to enhance the visitor's experience by telling the full story of this unique and fascinating area, and to positively impact the economies of the local communities."

According to a news release on Connect NC, no tax increases will be necessary to finance the bonds "because North Carolina's economy is strong and growing and, because the budget has been managed well, the state has ample credit capacity to borrow and repay the bonds with no tax increase. "
Also according to the news release, "North Carolina is growing faster than average and has surpassed Michigan to become the ninth most populous state - attractive to both retirees and new professionals alike. This growth impacts our state's aging infrastructure."

Connect NC proposes two bonds of roughly $1.4 billion each that will support investment in transportation and other public infrastructure projects in education, public health, parks, and ports, as well as for projects that support operations for the military.

For more information on Connect NC, go to http://www.connect.nc.gov/.

You can find out more about the museum at its website, http://www.ncmaritimemuseums.com/graveyard-of-the-atlantic.html.

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