Stans family reconsiders $10M pledge to museum

A family of longtime museum supporters is reconsidering a $10 million pledge to the planned facility that bears its name, the future Stans Museum of Life and Environment.

The millions had been promised by Steven Stans, who died unexpectedly a few months after the announcement was made last September. The money was designed to help spur fundraising efforts for the $50 million museum, planned to be built on the banks of the Catawba River on land donated by Jane Spratt McColl.

Fundraisers had to match the pledge 2 to 1 within three years to get the full amount. It would have been the largest contribution to the future museum, which would tell the story of people and place in the Carolina Piedmont.

But now that money may not come, museum officials told the York County Council on Monday night.

"They lost their leader," Sandy Barnes said of Steven Stans. Barnes is chairman of the Culture and Heritage Foundation, the nonprofit set up to raise money for York County's Culture & Heritage Museums, which plans to build the Stans museum. "He was the guy running the show."

Museum officials said they would leave the Stans name on the museum until they heard back from the Stans children sometime later this year.

"They're still committed to the project and want to make a significant pledge," said Gary Williams, chairman of the Culture & Heritage Commission.

The Museum of York County has housed the stuffed and mounted big-game animals that patriarch Maurice Stans collected during his trips to Africa. The former commerce secretary under President Nixon placed an ad in 1952 searching for a home for his safari animals. Maurice Stans never lived in York County, but his animals have been in the museum for decades.

Over the years, the family has given money and collections. Maurice Stans died in 1998, but his son, Steven Stans, had continued to support the museum.

The museum's fundraising campaign has been slow. Its capital campaign, which officials have bundled with fundraising for Historic Brattonsville and the McCelvey Center in York, the county's other historic sites, began five years ago. The total cost for the three sites is $60 million.

Officials said Monday outside the council meeting that they did not know offhand how much money they had in the bank. Van Shields, director of the Culture & Heritage Museums, said there was no way to get that figure Monday night.

As of last November, they had secured $7 million in individual and corporate gifts, The Herald has reported. Barnes estimated Monday night that the foundation had raised about $700,000 since then for the three sites, including a $300,000 donation from John Bratton Jr. for Historic Brattonsville.

Museum officials said they would still be able to raise the money needed, however long it takes.

"We have a plan in place," Barnes said.

The museum has worked with Cherokee Investment Partners in the development of 350 acres surrounding the planned museum site. The land will be turned into an eco-friendly, sustainable community that will generate revenue to help pay for the museum.

Construction could begin on the Kanawha community next year, and Shields anticipates more money and more visitors because of the development's success.

"There are tour buses that go to Baxter just to see Baxter," Shields said. "There will be buses coming to Kanawha, too."

While consultants predicted about 320,000 visitors annually to the Museum of Life and Environment, Shields said he thinks there will be many more.

Architects still have to draw the blueprints that will show how much each part of the building would cost, what it would cost to run and other details. That will take about 19 months, Shields said. Then museum construction, which could be done in phases, would start later as money allows.

"With any luck, there could be a shovel two years after that," he said.