Deen museum proposal gaining momentum

Opinion Column

Carlton Fletcher

Carlton Fletcher

Shining star come into view To shine its watchful light on you.

— Earth, Wind & Fire

There is a general concensus here — as is the case in most communities with self-image issues — that the people with the power to actually make significant changes are talkers more so than they are doers.

That was the backdrop local businesswoman B.J. Fletcher faced when she revealed in May not only her dream of locating a Paula Deen museum in Albany in honor of the city’s biggest home-grown celebrity, but that she had completed the purchase of Deen’s childhood home to spearhead the project and, more significantly, had gotten Deen’s blessing.

Still, the doubters, many stung one too many times by promises never kept, came out with guns of doubt blazing. “It’ll never happen,” they said. “It’ll never work.”

If their cries of woe were supposed to discourage Fletcher, well, obviously they don’t know the woman.

“This thing is bigger than I ever imagined,” Fletcher said of the excitement that her announcement has generated. “What’s been amazing to me is the interest I’m getting from people who do this kind of thing for a living, people who are telling me how big this can be for our community. I guess that’s been one of the hardest things for me, not talking about all the interest I’m getting from people who want to be involved with this project.”

Fletcher will, though, talk about the interest of the woman who’s generating all this excitement.

“Paula’s already going through her stuff, looking for things to put in the museum,” Fletcher said. “She’s even got (her brother) Bubba looking for an original bedroom suit from the house. She’s very excited about this whole idea; she’s definitely on board.”

One of the problems Fletcher has faced since she announced plans for the Deen museum is keeping up with all the people who want to be involved in the project. She’s been contacted by consultants, designers, planners and all other kinds of folks who do this kind of thing for a living from all over the country ... an email from Chicago, a phone call from New York, an information request from Atlanta.

“One of the things I’ve had to do is keep the potential investors separate from what we’re doing with the city,” Fletcher said. “I’m in the process of talking with city officials, and I’m very confident they’re going to work with us to make this project happen. Because it is going to happen, and it’s going to happen right here in Albany.”

Judy Sherling, a management consultant from Douglas, said when she heard of Fletcher’s plans one thought came to mind: no-brainer.

“There are so many people, I would say from all over the country but actually from all over the world, who just love Paula Deen and her family,” Sherling said. “And B.J. is such a smart, energetic woman. What she needs now is a plan to take this from concept to reality.

“B.J. is probably the very definition of an entrepreneur, and people love her for it. She’s the one who comes up with the great ideas, the grand concepts. What no one really likes are all the little details that must be attended to on a project like this. B.J. and her group will need someone to manage all those little details.”

Fletcher admits that the hoopla surrounding the Deen museum is outside her comfort zone. But she’s determined not to let the momentum surrounding the project dissipate like so many in the community have before.

“I’ve tried to keep things relatively low-key, but things are actually moving forward at a very fast pace,” she said. “There are so many people from outside our area — planners, developers, investors — who are thrilled about what we’re talking about doing.

“But the most important thing to me is Paula’s involvement. She and some of her friends and family members have really gotten excited about the possibilities, and they’re coming up with plans of their own. I think the big thing for us is not to forget that Paula’s the reason we’re even talking about doing this. Still, from everything I’m hearing, this could really change our community for the better.”

Email Carlton Fletcher at carlton.fletcher@albanyherald.com.