Dare Tourism Board to support Kitty Hawk museum

Published 7:25 am Monday, May 23, 2022

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Dare County Tourism Board business at the May 19 regular session meeting included a vote to support construction of a new museum in Kitty Hawk, approval of a Town of Manteo grant extension request and a $250,000 grant for a Hatteras museum project.

During public comments, Woody Joyner introduced himself as the new North Carolina Watermen United president.

Joyner advised Tourism Board members that his organization was founded in 2005 by charter boat captains from Dare and Carteret counties and works to protect the livelihood of the men and women who rely on fishing as a way of life and make sure the industry is not over-regulated to the point of extinction.

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“All we’re asking for,” explained Joyner, “is that the legislature and fishing commission give us fair and equitable legislation.

Among the current issues NCWU is looking at are the need to ensure Oregon Inlet remains open and navigable and opposition to a new proposed dolphin catch limit.

Also on hand during public comments to answer board questions about a proposed Wright Brothers Tribute Museum was the project developer and Access Aerospace CEO Bill Cress.

Addressing a major concern voiced by board members at an April presentation by Kitty Hawk councilwoman Charlotte Walker, Cress assured everyone that the people working at the Aycock Brown Welcome Center would not lose one day of employment.

He stressed also that while the project today is a long way off from where it is going, the proposed structure replacing the current welcome center would be better than the existing one, more visible and probably more efficient in the long run.

In addition to a new welcome center, plans for the 30,000 square-foot Wright Brothers Museum include an observatory, STEM training classrooms, theater, aircraft building workshop, an outdoor performance area, a café and gift shop, an extensive library and archive and several historically accurate Wright Brothers aircraft.

“We will address the welcome center concerns first,” added Cress. “A welcome center will be constructed first, even if it means setting up temporary structures.”

When asked about the status of negotiations with the state for the 10 acres of state-owned land, Walker indicated that the death of a key NCDOT participant meant a delay in discussions, but progress is being made and that Tourism Board support is a key to the negotiations. Once all the support resolutions are collected it would be time to sit at the table for discussions.

When asked about the site selection process, Cress explained that although Dayton, Ohio was surveyed and Washington, DC considered, the feeling all along has been that Kitty Hawk is really the only place for such a museum.

Satisfied the project will incorporate a new, privately financed welcome center that would be operated by the Dare County Tourism Board at no additional expense to the Dare County Tourism Board and that it would have a positive impact in telling the story of flight and to the community and local economy, board members adopted a resolution acknowledging support for the proposed Wright Brothers Tribute Museum.

Also approved at Thursday’s meeting was an extension request from the Town of Manteo for a Town Common Phase 2 Grant Contract.

Bid earlier this year with the only response from AR Chesson, the project was re-advertised, since a minimum of two bids are required, and the only response was again from AR Chesson. The delayed start led the town engineer and project manager to recommend requesting a six-month extension on the grant from the Outer Banks Visitors Bureau.

Following a Steering Committee recommendation, an extension to October 31, 2022 was approved.

Making what appears to be a last-minute request for funds, Graveyard of the Atlantic director Joseph K. Schwarzer II advised that although the NC legislature appropriated $4.2 million for museum exhibits, the recent jump in construction costs has limited the purchase power of that appropriation.

According to Schwarzer, the Hatteras museum started with only a few thousand visitors each year and it now has more than 100,000 a year with 97,000 so far this year.

Schwarzer said Graveyard of the Atlantic is the third most visited museum in the state and the only one without permanent exhibits. The money requested is to develop permanent interactive exhibits but he is facing an end of the month timeline to get money up front, which would avoid a change order that will eat up as much as $100,000 for administrative costs.

After a brief discussion on bypassing regular grant request channels, since time is a critical factor, the board voted to provide $250,000 toward installation of exhibits from the long term restricted unappropriated fund.

Dare County Tourism Board executive director Lee Nettles pointed out that the grant would need Dare County Board of Commissioners approval and the dollars are paid on a reimbursement basis.

Other Tourism Board business for the day included a budget and finance report, a brief review of a new program, Careers Beyond the Counter, aimed at connecting Dare County school students with career paths found within the local $1.4 billion tourism industry and board approval to join Southern Shores with a friend of the court amicus brief in support of building the mid-Currituck County bridge.

Nettles also reminded board members that a public meeting to review plans for an Outer Banks Event Center is set for 9:30 to 11 a.m. Monday, June 6, at the Keeper’s Galley building at Haven on the Banks on Dove Street in Nags Head.

At the end of business for the day, board members agreed to meet later than normal next month and meet at 9 a.m. on June 30.