City council gets first look at plans for Metal Museum to occupy Overton Park’s Rust Hall

Updated: Nov. 17, 2020 at 5:20 PM CST
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - The city’s famed Metal Museum, located just south of downtown on the Mighty Mississippi, wants to expand to Midtown Memphis.

Plans by Mayor Jim Strickland’s administration call for the Metal Museum to take over Rust Hall, once the home of Memphis College of Art, which announced plans to close in 2017. That closure is now complete.

The Brooks Museum is also planning a move to Downtown Memphis.

“As the parks director, I think this is probably the best possible outcome we could have had. There was a lot of community engagement, a lot of feedback put in,” said Nick Walker, Director of Parks and Neighborhoods with the city.

Walker told Memphis City Council members Tuesday that the Metal Museum emerged as a leading contender for Rust Hall after a year and a half community outreach process.

Strickland recommended the Metal Museum head to council approval for the city-owned building in June.

Metal Museum leaders tell WMC Action News 5 that they have a fundraising goal of $30 to 35 million and will start renovations and construction after raising $25 million. They have $12 million worth of pledged contributions.

“The things that we heard were, it needed to be an open facility. It needed to be something that brought the community in,” said Walker.

The Metal Museum plans to equip the mid-century building with art galleries and metalworking facilities. Its location on the river will become an artist residency program. Both facilities will be open to the public.

But some council members Tuesday expressed concern about the length of the lease for Rust Hall proposed at 100 years. City officials said the lease includes an initial 40-year term with four 15-year extensions to follow.

“There is not a single person on this call that will be around 100 years. I think 50 years could be reasonable,” said council member Martavius Jones.

Others said they want to see the final version of the lease before a vote, which is not complete yet.

“I don’t like the council having to approve a lease that hasn’t been written,” said council member Worth Morgan.

The committee pushed a vote on the item until their next meeting in early December but signaled approval was likely.

“This is an expensive, difficult building. We do not have a lot of options. And I think we have a partner in the Metal Museum the community is excited about,” said Morgan.

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