Museum Center, Freedom Center announce merger

Cincinnati Museum Center
Cincinnati Museum Center
National Underground Railroad Freedom Center
National Underground Railroad Freedom Center
Officials officially announce the merger between The Museum Center and the Freedom Center
Officials officially announce the merger between The Museum Center and the Freedom Center

CINCINNATI, OH (FOX19) - The Cincinnati Museum Center is joining forces with the Cincinnati Underground Railroad Freedom Center to create a united corporate structure.

The official announcement was made Wednesday morning at the Freedom Center.

The annexation would allow for the consolidation of resources aimed at cost savings for both parties involved.

"We know that joining together will strengthen our respective organizations," said Francie S. Hiltz, chair Cincinnati Museum Center Board of Trustees and Rev. Damon Lynch, Jr. presiding co-chair of National Underground Railroad Freedom Center. "The result will be creative and dynamic organizations, offering greater financial strength and new opportunities."

Officials say the museums will maintain their own brands and distinct missions, but be better positioned to contribute more to the community.

When the transaction is completed, the Freedom Center and Cincinnati Museum Center will be united in operations and planning. For the purpose of charitable gifts and other revenue, each organization will be a separate 501(c)(3) entity. The Board of the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center will be responsible for overseeing fundraising, programming and for enhancing the image of the Freedom Center, locally, nationally and globally.

Economic hardships had threatened to close Cincinnati's National Underground Railroad Freedom Center by the end of 2012, if it could not find $1.5 million a year to cover future budgets.

The Freedom Center's leadership said they were doing everything they could to save the museum, from slashing the budget to reaching out to survivors' families in the hopes of getting their support.

Any Museum Center levy funds would not be used to support the Freedom Center. Museum Center officials want a $141 million tax levy on the November ballot to fix water damage and make long term repairs.

Kim Robinson will continue to serve as the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center leader in this new structure and work jointly with the Cincinnati Museum Center's senior leadership team, led by Doug McDonald.

"We are deeply motivated by the future opportunities we see to strengthen our ability to carry out the mission of the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center," said Robinson.
"This step of joining with Cincinnati Museum Center will allow us to consider exciting new approaches to engage far more people in the universal struggle for freedom and the celebration of its achievement."

"The Freedom Center and Museum Center are both defining institutions for our community," said P.G. Sittenfeld, Cincinnati City councilman. "The solution that has been brokered is a great example of the power of building partnerships. This is a good thing for Cincinnati."

"The good news is if the museum is going to be able to bring in them under their umbrella that may be a way to save this operation," council member Charlie Winburn said.

"I'm glad to see that there are some changes being made so that it doesn't hopefully continue to struggle," Chris Seelbach noted.

Not everyone is excited to hear the news, however.

"I'm not celebrating until I see if they're wanting to get into my pocket any deeper than they already are," C.O.A.S.T. CoFounder Tom Brinkman said.

The Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes has long been a critic of the Freedom Center's use of taxpayer dollars to stay afloat.

"For years and years they've been grasping at straws to try to keep their institution." Brinkman said. "[It's] something the public has shown they don't want, they won't support and they really need to just close."

Brinkman says he would rather see the freedom center relocate to the Museum Center facility than stay at the Banks as planned.

"What we should celebrate is when the Freedom Center vacates the property, very valuable property on the riverfront and put it back on the tax paying rolls," Brinkman said.

Brinkman is skeptical the merger will produce self-sustaining educational centers.

"I'm very concerned that it's just another opportunity to come back to the taxpayers and say 'We need more money because we've taken on an institution that could not support itself'."

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