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In push to raise funds, History Center makes a bid for formal partnership with the city

Friday, May 7, 2021 by Sumaiya Malik, Reporting Texas

The Library Commission has postponed the decision to officially recognize the need for an agreement between the Austin History Center Association and the city of Austin.

According to the proposed agreement from the association, the group would have a seat at the table with the city when it comes to fundraising for the history center and its expansion plan, much like the Long Center, Austin Parks Foundation and Austin Community Foundation have. 

In a Library Commission meeting on April 26, Chad Williams, board member of AHCA and past chair of the Library Commission, presented an expansion plan update from the Austin History Center Association.

“We are serious about being financial partners in this endeavor with the city of Austin to preserve Austin’s history,” Williams said. He explained that the lack of a legal agreement would hinder AHCA’s ability to raise money and get grants. 

While the commissioners were not sure what kind of a relationship AHCA was looking for, Commissioner Catherine Hanna told the Austin Monitor she believed it’s “similar to partnerships that Friends of the Parks and the Long Center have, but we’re not familiar with those agreements. I think the commissioners wanted to see just a little more definitive information about what that formal agreement would look like.” 

The Austin History Center was set up in 1980 in an existing library building as part of the Austin Public Library system, as a historical archive for the city. The nonprofit, citizen-based group “advocates for the preservation and discovery of our 181-year history and also the preservation of the official records of the city of Austin,” as former Mayor Lee Cooke, the president of AHCA, told the Monitor

Cooke and former Mayor Ron Mullen are both involved in AHCA’s fundraising efforts. In March 2021, AHCA received a gift of $1 million to seed a new endowment fund that will generate interest revenue for the history center’s annual operations. 

The current expansion plan includes taking two original library buildings – the Austin History Center and Faulk Library – and converting them into an archival research facility that would make more technologies available for citizens who want access to local history.

Although in the last four to five years the association has been welcomed by library leadership as well as City Council, AHCA does not currently have a legal document identifying it as a partner. Formalizing the relationship is part of a push to raise money for the association itself and also raise capital campaign funds for the master plan, Williams explained. 

“We’re talking about raising millions of dollars, and you don’t raise millions of dollars just based on a handshake of a relationship; this is kind of essentially what we have now,” Williams said. 

AHCA aims to raise funds for a full-time executive director, support staff and programming needs for the History Center. 

Austin Public Library staffers are waiting to get feedback from the AHCA so they can put the legal language in place for the draft agreement, APL Director Roosevelt Weeks said. The staffers will bring it to the Library Commission’s attention in their next meeting, he said. 

“We’re serious about being financial partners in this,” he said. “The great thing is that there are other nonprofits that enjoy this level of partnership and we are simply asking to be let into the clubhouse.”

The commission decided to wait for the draft agreement from the association and the library system. 

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