Chattanooga History Center getting new leadership, support

Daryl Black speaks with the Times Free Press at the Chattanooga History Center
photo Daryl Black speaks with the Times Free Press at the Chattanooga History Center

With Executive Director Daryl Black on the way out, cash is again flowing into the Chattanooga History Center and the long-awaited museum seems to be much closer to finally opening its doors.

On Friday, the museum announced Black will resign the position he has held since 2009 to move to Gettysburg, Pa., to work as the executive director of the Seminary Ridge Museum.

Museum officials said the Chattanooga History Center has promoted deputy director Marlene Payne to museum director and tapped Andrew Kean, former chief operating officer for the city of Chattanooga and current president of Chattanooga Whiskey, as a part-time financial consultant. The museum also expects to soon hire a chief executive officer who will oversee the entire operation.

Meanwhile, one board member said the museum has secured $1.5 million in badly needed financing and expects to finalize another $2.5 million in the coming weeks.

In Friday's news release, board President Jo Coke said Payne and Kean would "turn our vision for a world-class, state-of-the-art history museum into a reality for this community." She also thanked Black for his passion and leadership and wished him well in Pennsylvania. Coke did not return a phone call seeking comment.

Vince Butler, public relations director at The Johnson Group, said no board or staff members would comment Friday. The Johnson Group is one of the museum's largest contractors -- tax filings show the history center spent $153,326 on marketing in 2013, most of which went to the firm.

"We're just going to let the news release stand on its own as our comment," Butler said.

During his time at the helm, Black personally oversaw the design and the content of the new museum, which has been in the works for years. Before his promotion to director, Black was the museum's curator and an instructor at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.

But his reign was turbulent. The museum struggled to meet fundraising goals for years and repeatedly missed its own projections for opening the doors.

Black will work through April 17 and then serve in a consulting role to see the Chattanooga History Center through its opening, Butler said.

The museum had advertised for months that it was only a few hundred thousand short of its $10.5 million capital campaign goal. But in January, board members told the Times Free Press that the history center was more than $3 million shy of its goal -- news that surprised many donors.

On Friday, board treasurer Carl Henderson declined to comment on Black's departure. But Henderson, a local CPA, said new financial support has emerged since January: Cornerstone Community Bank has committed to a $1 million loan and the River City Co., which holds a $1.8 million mortgage on the museum's building near the Tennessee Aquarium, will extend a $500,000 loan.

Henderson said current and former board members, along with other supporters, raised some $300,000 in a matter of days. And other financial institutions and foundations are finalizing plans to lend or donate the remainder of the money needed to fabricate and install the museum's exhibits.

Henderson said he could have the required funds together as soon as May, with final work to fill up the 11,000-square-foot empty shell of a museum beginning soon thereafter.

He said the Chattanooga History Center is in a considerably different position than it was two months ago.

"I think everybody is really doing everything they can to make it happen, where I felt like for months there was a lot of lip service, a lot of talk about it," Henderson said. "Nothing was really happening and we weren't really moving.

"We're going to get there. I can see the light at the end of this tunnel now."

Contact staff writer Kevin Hardy at or 423-757-6249.