Charleston’s Museum Mile – the old Bait & Switch

It looks like Columbia, SC, isn’t the only place where the use of county accommodation tax money ends up helping commercial enterprises when it is shielded as support for non-profits.

Accommodation tax money is a special tax collected from hotels, motels and vacation rentals to promote area tourism.

The Museum Mile project was first proposed to help support cultural institutions which have seen declining visitor numbers in recent years by pulling together and promoting the participating parties located on or near Meeting Street – in the space of a mile. The institutions that would benefit were proposed to be – the Children’s Museum of the Lowcountry, the Charleston Museum, the Gibbes Museum of Art, the Historic Charleston Foundation, the Preservation Society of Charleston, the South Carolina Historical Society, Colonial Dames (a.k.a. the Powder Magazine), the Washington Light Infantry and the newly reopened Old Slave Mart Museum.

The picture is museums on or near Meeting Street within a mile of each other.

The project was awarded $100,000, in Nov. 2007, by Charleston County Council to help pay for brochures, bulletin boards, a website and other forms of advertising to promote the Museum Mile – like signs on buses already driving around Charleston and flags on street poles. The idea behind this kind of promotion is that there are plenty of people visiting Charleston – they just don’t know the right places to go. As we all know Charleston is one of the least promoted cities in the country. I guess they think most people just go to the Visitor Center to go to the rest rooms.

With five months to go on its first year since County Council approved the funding we’re beginning to see a different picture of Meeting Street’s Museum Mile – which now seems more like Charleston’s Miracle Mile (in that it can be anything the group wants it to be).

Here’s some of the new attractions being promoted on the Museum Mile website: Old Exchange & Provost Dungeon, located at 122 East Bay Street; The Mills House Hotel, located at 115 Meeting Street; and the Sticky Fingers Ribhouse, located at 235 Meeting Street.

At this point any institution and any commercial business located in Charleston County would seem to have a legitimate claim to be included in the Museum Mile – since the original premise has been stretched beyond belief.

How do you judge who can be part of this promotion? By age? The Children’s Museum of the Lowcountry isn’t that old. By location? If you can include locations on East Bay Street – why not King Street or even Rutledge Avenue? Did they mean a square mile? And, how did commercial hotels and restaurants get into the mix?

It might have something to do with paid membership – I don’t know, but that’s the only thing that would make sense.

People who find this Museum Mile website will soon see that its creators were not serious about presenting Charleston’s cultural institutions and the members of Charleston County Council got taken by the old bait and switch.

Sticky Fingers – ummm them is some cultural tastin’ ribs. I’ll have to be institutionalized if I swallow this logic.

Of course this is the second time this same group has repackaged this same idea of joint promotion of cultural institutions. What is it that President George W. Bush says? Fool me once, shame on you. Shame me again, I’m a fool or… well you know what he says.

I’m not sure Charleston County Council will get it right the third time around either when these folks come back for money again.

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