The $20 million “Museum of Tolerance” proposed at Chandler’s East Valley Jewish Community Center could bring more than $16 million a year in tourism to the local economy, city officials say.
The City Council Thursday approved an agreement with the nonprofit JCC in which the city will provide $2 million toward exterior and roadway improvements to the site, on the southwest corner of Alma School and Ray roads, said James Smith, a city economic development specialist. In return, officials expect the museum’s anticipated 250,000 visitors a year will be a significant economic boost to Chandler.
“It has the potential to be several hundred thousand dollars a year in sales tax,” Smith said.
The museum is described as treating the Holocaust as a basis to teach about other examples of genocide and persecution, such as the ongoing genocide in Sudan’s Darfur region and the treatment of Native American populations, among others.
Steve Tepper, the JCC’s executive director, first contacted the city about the potential museum in October 2008.
“We need to use what has happened in the past to prevent it from happening in the future,” Tepper said.
The proposed museum is not meant to indicate that Chandler has a problem with intolerance, he said. Rather, it’s an outgrowth of other educational programs the JCC has offered, he said, such as hosting a major exhibit about Anne Frank, whose diary chronicled Nazi oppression in Holland during World War II before she and much of her family perished in the concentration camps.
Plans for the museum call for a 70,000-square-foot facility on five acres of vacant land next to the existing JCC, 908 N. Alma School Road. The complex would house the 10,000-square-foot museum and a 350-seat auditorium and would feature meeting space, classrooms, and an outdoor “courtyard of contemplation.”
However, the first phase, comprising the museum and additional exhibit space, may not be complete and open for public admission until 2024, according to Smith’s report to the City Council. The second phase of construction calls for building the auditorium and conference facility, while the third phase is expected to consist of a fee-based fitness center and aquatic facility open to the public, the report states.
Tepper said construction depends on how fast the JCC can raise the $20 million estimated construction cost from private and corporate donors. The proposed museum is modeled on other similar museums around the country, particularly the Illinois Holocaust Museum & Education Center in suburban Chicago, but is not affiliated with other Museums of Tolerance, he said.
Smith said that before the museum was proposed in Chandler, the city already had planned an $8.6 million upgrade to the Alma School Road/Ray Road intersection, which is expected to see an increase in traffic because of the museum. The agreement between the city and the JCC calls for those intersection improvements to be complete by January 2012.
The city’s direct $2 million contribution comes from its Infill Incentive Fund. The money is meant to support redevelopment and revitalization in established parts of the city by helping prospective tenants improve a property’s exterior. Smith said the money would fund such things as additional roadway improvements, landscaping and relocating utilities at the site.
Tepper said the city’s contribution is “an incredible first step” that’s expected to give fundraising some momentum.
The East Valley Jewish Community Center opened its existing facility in Chandler in 2005. Before that, it had been located in Tempe since 1972.