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Birthplace of Country Music seeking city's support for state funds, museum expansion

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The Birthplace of County Music has hit a roadblock in its plan to expand the museum.

The museum has collected nearly all of the funds needs for the $4 million expansion project. To get the last bit, it plans to apply for a state grant.

But it needs help from the city of Bristol, Virginia. In order to apply for the grant, the BCM needs sponsorship from the city.

At Tuesday's meeting, there wasn't enough support from the city council to even vote on the issue. But the museum hopes to change their minds.

The Birthplace of Country Music museum opened its doors in 2014. Since then, it's grown so much, museum director Jessica Turner said they need more space.

"Expanded education space, event space, expanded exhibit space, office space," Turner listed off what they want to create in the building next door. The BCM already owns the 17,000 square foot building. Construction costs would be around $4 million.

"We're almost there, this could really bridge the gap," Turner said.

Virginia is offering $2 million in grant money to help revitalize downtown areas throughout the state. The museum wants the city of Bristol, Virginia to apply for $600,000.

"We already have the matching funds in hand, so the city doesn't have any financial obligation," Turner said.

But the city council is split on whether it's a good idea.

"It's a way the city can help not just the organization but all of downtown," Mayor Bill Hartley said.

"We're just not going to rubber stamp stuff anymore," councilman Kevin Mumpower said.

Mumpower still has a lot of questions: "Is this money going to be purposed right? Is it going to provide the economic development that the city is after?"

If Bristol doesn't apply for the grant, the funds will still go to other communities. But Mumpower said that isn't a reason to be careless with taxpayer dollars.

"If someone else wants to take the money like another municipality and not be good stewards, well that's on them," Mumpower said. "But it can't be on us anymore."

Turner reassures, this investment would benefit more than just the museum.

"We're really doing all that we can as good community partners to be a catalyst for a lot of growth downtown," Turner said.

Since there was no vote at the last meeting, the city council can consider it again. The grant application deadline is March 1st. So the last chance for city leaders to decide will be at their next meeting on February 28th.

Turner said if they cannot apply for the grant, it will delay the project. But they will find another way to fund it.

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