With the future of the Loudoun Museum in limbo, its landlords are considering options for the three downtown buildings it occupies.
Monday night’s Leesburg Town Council work session was the first occasion the council had to scrutinize the museum’s current situation. In recent months, the executive director was terminated by the board of trustees and, shortly thereafter, all remaining staff members resigned. The museum remains closed as the board looks for a new director to get the museum reopened.
The town owns the three buildings the museum occupies, including the log cabin in the Rose Garden area of the Town Hall campus. The town and the museum signed a lease agreement 20 years ago, but it expired in 2002. Ever since, the museum has been operating on month-to-month holdover provision in the lease. The town only charges the museum $1 per year for use of the three buildings. Additionally, it takes care of all exterior and major structural repairs for the buildings. The estimated in-kind value of the town’s lease to the museum over the past two decades is around $77,000 a year, Deputy Town Manager Keith Markel said, plus maintenance and insurance costs. Annual routine building maintenance costs are estimated around $5,000, but over the years the town has expended hundreds of thousands of dollars to keep the building in good shape. Going forward, an additional $500,000 in improvements are planned.
“It’s time for the town to get a more formal lease in place,” Markel emphasized.
Markel noted that discussions between the town and the museum about crafting a formal lease agreement took place prior to the termination of the executive director. The current lease also stipulates that the museum be open 46 hours per week, yet a staff report notes that over the past several years the museum tended to be open around 14 hours per week and generally only on weekends.
Markel presented several options to the council, including continuing to lease the full space to the museum; leasing a reduced amount of space to the museum; terminating the lease and repurposing the buildings for alternative nonprofit or commercial uses; or completely terminating the town’s relationship with the museum and selling the buildings or using them for town government purposes. Should the town choose to terminate the lease, it would be required to provide the museum with 30 days’ notice.
Council members Monday night seemed inclined to give the museum another chance to retool.
“The Board of Supervisors has appointed a new group of trustees and they’re the ones shaking things up. I know that they’re very committed to making the museum much better than it is. I think we need to give them the chance to try and move it forward. It would be a huge asset to the town if we had a successful museum downtown,” Mayor Kelly Burk said.
She called a suggestion by Markel to create a new Memorandum of Understanding between the town, museum and Loudoun County “a great idea.” The county is currently a major source of funding for the museum, $156,000 a year under a Memorandum of Agreement between the museum and the county. But Burk emphasized that the town needs to stipulate that that museum has to be open more often.
“It can’t be a viable operation,” only being open for a small portion of the week, she said.
Councilman Tom Dunn suggested negotiating a shorter-term lease.
Vice Mayor Suzanne Fox said if the museum is able to get back up and running, it could be a good opportunity for the town.
“I feel like this is an opportunity to rethink how we approach tourism, historical preservation and the intersection of those two in town. We can leverage this as an economic development activity. It could be a hub for tourism,” she said.
The council is expected to vote on a resolution Tuesday night to direct the town staff to look at creating a more formal lease agreement with the museum and possibly move toward the creation of a Memorandum of Understanding with performance standards.