International African American Museum has plans for construction - WCBD-TV: News, Weather, and Sports for Charleston, SC

International African American Museum has plans for construction in downtown Charleston

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IAAM view in Liberty Square IAAM view in Liberty Square
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"We have the privilege to build this institution on the sacred ground where the journey for thousands of African Americans began," Felicia Easterlin, program manager for the International African American Museum (IAAM), said.

In 2016 the IAAM plans to break ground on the corner of Calhoun across from Liberty Square. The portion of the port that used to be known as Gadsden's Wharf sits nearby, next to the South Carolina Aquarium and Fort Sumter Museum. Adding the IAAM will conveniently make a tri-fecta of tourist museums, although, there's much more significance to the location.

"It was the largest independently owned ports and one of the most active in the Slave Trade. It's estimated that 40% of all enslaved Africans entered the U.S. through Charleston's waters," Easterlin said, specifically referring to the water she was standing next to at the aquarium.

South Carolina is the only state in the Slave Trade that took in that many innocent Africans and Easterlin acknowledges it's a painful part of our past. However, she said the sensitive topic won't stop her from honoring her ancestors through her ability to facilitate something that could bring understanding and peace to its patrons.

"Where we feel the greatest discomfort comes our greatest opportunity to learn and to grow," she said. "The way they had to survive was different than what they had to encounter had they been left in Africa but the spirit, the courage, it's something to be proud of and it's something that we need to carry forward for our children, for our grandchildren. It's a story than needs to be told."

Lawmakers and Smithsonian historians agree this story should be told, which is why Easterlin said they are supportive of the project. Plus they said it will keep a rotating door of tourists coming to Charleston.

"Charleston has what no other museum existing today has, it has the unique opportunity to build an institution in the city in which is it the artifact. So the IAAM, in partnership with the Smithsonian, they will hold exhibits telling about the Lowcountry story, leading visitors to us."

Possibly one of the biggest attractions for African Americans visiting the museum will be the "family history center" where DNA testing and analysis will be done to discover more about their ancestors.

The idea for this project first came from Mayor Riley in the early 2000s. By the time the museum is complete, this project will have taken about 20 years and cost $75 million.

According to the IAAM, this is the breakdown of the costs:
Construction: $23,200,000
Site work: $1,500,000
Exhibits: $14,500,000
SUBTOTAL: $39,200,000
Design fees: $6,770,000
Development costs: $8,000,000
SUBTOTAL: $14,770,000
Hard + soft costs: $53,970,000
Contingency: $8,070,000 
Escalation 2012-2016: $9,960,000 
Museum Endowment: $3,000,000
TOTAL PROJECT COSTS: $75,000,000

*Development Costs include pre-opening expenses, Borough Houses (acquisition and renovation), Project Management, Institutional Development and Museum Content Development.

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