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An artist rendering shows an outdoor perspective of the Albany Museum of Art when it moves into the former Belk department store at 128 and 146 W. Broad Ave. in downtown Albany.

ALBANY — The Albany Museum of Art will use a $350,000 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency grant to clean up contamination at the downtown Albany site that will be the new home of the museum.

“This crucial funding will allow the Albany Museum of Art to continue its long-range plan to move downtown into the heart of Albany,” AMA Executive Director Andrew James Wulf said. “As one of Murphy’s Laws advises, whenever you set out to do something, something else must be done first. In this case, we the AMA, the Board of Trustees, the staff, and stakeholders shall do our due diligence in cleaning up this special site so that we can build a new state-of-the-art art museum for southwest Georgia, its people and its visitors.

“We are deeply grateful to the EPA for its gracious award of this grant, and we shall do right by them as well as the Albany community in completing this project in a timely and successful manner.”

AMA Board President Jack Davis praised the “key players” who helped the museum obtain the grant.

“I was excited and grateful to learn we have been awarded this critical grant,” Davis said. “I’d like to express appreciation to the key players who helped make this happen: Bruce Campbell, a member of the Board of Trustees who is serving as project director; former AMA Executive Director Paula Williams; Executive Director Andrew Wulf; Development and Membership Director Chloe Hinton; Board of Trustees Past-President Ripley Bell, and the entire team.

“We also greatly appreciate the work of the team of specialists at Cardno, the environmental engineering services firm that facilitated the grant application, and the strong support we have received from the city of Albany.”

The Albany Museum of Art applied for the EPA Brownfield and Land Revitalization Program Cleanup grant to assist with the cleanup of hazardous waste and petroleum contaminants at the former Belk Department Store Building and adjacent parking lot at 128 and 146 West Broad Ave., the future home of the museum.

Last year, the Robert N. Brooks Sr. family donated the properties, which also include a former dance studio that will be razed for an outdoor sculpture garden. The buildings and parking lot are situated on 1.27 acres of land.

The move downtown will not only place the AMA in proximity to other Albany attractions and the Albany Convention & Visitors Bureau, it will more than double the space at the current museum at 311 Meadowlark Drive. The estimated $12 million museum will have 53,000 square feet of space, compared to 25,000 square feet at the current location.

The additional space will allow the AMA to increase its number of galleries and to house its permanent collection, which has been in safe storage since January 2017 storms damaged the museum. The AMA’s programming area for children will be increased, and meeting and events space will be expanded. Behind the scenes, there will be more storage and preparation room space, both of which are cramped in the current facility. By growing and adding programming, there will be more points of interest for those who visit the Museum.

The AMA applied for the grant following a public hearing that was conducted at the museum on Sept 26, 2019.

The Brownfield and Land Revitalization Program is designed to provide funding to carry out cleanup activities at brownfield sites, which are properties where expansion, redevelopment or re-use may be complicated by the presence or potential presence of a hazardous substance, pollutant or contaminant. The EPA estimates there are more than 450,000 brownfields in the U.S. During the due diligence phase of acquiring the building and parking lot, AMA officials discovered heavy metals and inorganic contaminants co-mingled with petroleum products at the site.

The contamination was not an issue specific to the museum. The environmental cleanup will have to be completed before anyone can make use of the property. Most importantly, the cleanup will mean a healthier environment for Albany.

Built in 1968, the future downtown museum site was part of an effort by the Belk company to create a more consistent store design throughout its chain. The location, however, was used for other purposes for decades before the store was constructed, with commercial uses dating to the 1890s. The property formerly housed businesses including horse stables, carriage repositories, retail stores, warehouse storage, auto repair facilities, a paint shop, a print shop and a gas station. The dance studio previously was home to an auto parts and repair store.

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