A digital rendition of the Clarke Museum's possible future.
UPDATE: The Eureka City Council approved the proposal.
The Eureka City Council is set to vote tomorrow night on whether to authorize City Manager Greg Sparks to negotiate with local nonprofit Humboldt Made to operate a visitor center that will take up the main room of the Clarke Museum, at Third and E streets.
Humboldt Made's proposal — which staff is recommending above several other contenders, including the Ink People Center for the Arts and Humboldt Bay Provisions (formerly the Humboldt Bay Tourism Center) — would see the Clarke's large main room turned into a gift shop, lounge and tasting room. The area where the museum's apothecary exhibit currently is would become a bar, and a historic boat may be suspended from the ceiling of the room, which formerly housed the Bank of Eureka. The building dates back to 1911 and is on the National Register of Historic Places.
Ben Brown, the museum's curator, says he and the board had considered incorporating a visitor's center long before the process went out to bid earlier this year. (The city severed its 40-year relationship with the Eureka Chamber of Commerce
in June, opening up the process to competitive bidding and closing down the visitor's center at the peak of tourist season.) Brown believes the agreement with Humboldt Made will be mutually beneficial for the two entities, introducing visitors to the region's bounty and expanding the museum's reach. Food and beverage can be a tricky sell for curators, but the proposed set-up seems like it will prevent exhibit-damaging sticky hands and insects.
"I think it may be a way of reaching millennials, a demographic that doesn’t necessarily make it to museums," says Brown. "We like doing events here but we aren’t a food and beverage facility."
Asked whether incorporating a visitor's center will squeeze out existing exhibits, Brown says no. Roughly half of the space in question is currently used as a gift shop, anyway. And many of the museum's natural history exhibits are on loan from the Loleta Wildlife Refuge, where they will return.
The amount requested in the proposal, $110,000, is identical to that previously granted to the Chamber of Commerce. A portion of that money will fund the part of the salary for Humboldt Made's executive director, Alanna Powell. Additional funds will support a tourism director and several part-time positions for staffing the gift store, tasting room and guest services. Humboldt Made, which promotes locally made products and businesses, will distribute cards to tourists who like products from the tasting room for them to take home to their local grocery stores, encouraging them to stock Humboldt products.
"Our mission is to grow our makers and promoters," says Powell. "On a bigger scale, our mission is to grow our economy. Eureka in particular has so much potential for a tourist destination. We have a thriving maker community, arts community, the architecture, the bay and we're so close to the redwoods."
Another part of the proposal, which Powell hopes will be supported by the Eureka Lodging Alliance, would see a position created for a "community revitalization project manager" to oversee beautification efforts and community events.
City staff received five total proposals for a center and signage. Other potential sites for the visitor center include the Loheide Building at Fifth and B streets and the Gross Building at Fifth and F streets. The review committee responsible for choosing a proposal included Gary Stone from Humboldt Bay Inn BestWestern, Aaron Ostrom from Pacific Outfitters and Councilmember Heidi Messner. If approved, the contract would be up for renewal in five years. If approved, Powell says she hopes the new visitor center at the Clarke will have a grand opening in October of this year.
Editor's Note: This story was updated to correct information about the museum's pharmacy or "Apothecary" exhibit, which would not be converted into a bar, as previously implied, but rather moved and a bar/cafe potentially built where it currently sits. We apologize for the error.