Initial steps taken on Deen museum

Paula Deen

Paula Deen

ALBANY, Ga. -- The media firestorm that threatened to topple celebrity chef and Albany native Paula Deen's vast empire has done little to dampen the enthusiasm of the group planning the Paula Deen & Sons Museum in her hometown.

Businesswoman and political candidate B.J. Fletcher said Wednesday the committee working to bring the Deen museum to Albany has been approached by a number of developers and potential investors recommending possible locations for the project, including some in neighboring Lee County.

Fletcher said the committee will consider all possibilities.

"People who know me know I am a proponent of downtown redevelopment," said Fletcher, who owns B.J.'s Country Buffet restaurant, is director of sales for the downtown Hilton Garden Inn and is a declared candidate for the Ward III Albany City Commission seat. "Nothing's changed about that.

"But it would be foolish not to listen to people who have an interest in seeing the Paula Deen & Sons Museum come to our community, especially people who are interested in investing in the project. There are some very interesting concepts being brought to the table."

The Deen museum committee, which has met regularly for the past few months, took a couple of steps toward moving from the discussion to the concept/design phase of the project Wednesday by registering the Paula Deen & Sons Museum domain name (www.pauladeen&sonsmuseum.com) and by filing business registry documentation with the Georgia secretary of state's office.

Albany attorney Phil Cannon, who said the state documentation should be confirmed today, handled those matters for the committee.

A number of downtown Albany sites have been discussed as possible locations for a Deen museum, including land around the Thronateeska Heritage Center, unoccupied property along Front Street across from the Convention and Visitors Bureau, and the former Holman Mule Barn site on West Broad Avenue.

Non-specific alternate site proposals include locations in northwest Albany and southwest Lee County.

Fletcher said the committee would consider the pros and cons of each proposed location before selecting a site for the museum.

"Paula is definitely still on board with the museum," Jimmy Deen, the celebrity chef's ex-husband who lives in Albany, said. "She's been busy lately, obviously, but she's monitoring the progress being made. I'm certain she'll get actively involved at some point in this process."

The committee is considering such satellite attractions and concepts as a Paula Deen & Sons retail outlet, which would feature Deen-endorsed and other Georgia-made products, a restaurant, a cooking academy and a garden area named in honor of Paula Deen's parents.