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Has Mississippi aviation museum finally found a home in Gulfport?

The Gulfport City Council could decide Tuesday whether to lease the old Rooms To Go building on Pass Road to a nonprofit organization that plans to make repairs and open it as the Missisippi Aviation Heritage Museum.
The Gulfport City Council could decide Tuesday whether to lease the old Rooms To Go building on Pass Road to a nonprofit organization that plans to make repairs and open it as the Missisippi Aviation Heritage Museum. calee@sunherald.com

Mississippi’s aviation heritage will be on display at the old Rooms To Go Building on Pass Road if a lease agreement is approved this week.

The Gulfport City Council will consider approving the lease Tuesday, while the board of the John C. Robinson Brown Condor Association will review the lease Wednesday. The nonprofit association would renovate the building and operate the museum.

The two-story building needs repair, but association members say it would be the perfect home for aviation exhibits.

“It’s been a long time coming,” said board member Skip Borders of Gulfport. “We really feel that having the physical building will enhance our efforts at soliciting donations and having something to rally the aviation community around in the city of Gulfport.”

The Rooms To Go building was donated to the city after the furniture company relocated to U.S. 49. It has sat vacant for years. Councilman Myles Sharp, who has been working on the project, said Gulfport needs a museum and the Rooms To Go building sits near the Gulfport-Biloxi International Airport.

The Brown Condor Association plans to spend about a year renovating the building, which needs a new roof and heating and air system. The city would charge $200 a month rent while the building is renovated, the lease agreement says. Once the museum opens, rent would increase to $300 a month and 10 percent of ticket sales.

The city would end the lease after a year if renovations are not complete. The museum is supposed to open within three years of the lease signing.

The Brown Condor Association has a $250,000 grant to help with renovations, Borders said. The association has previously estimated repairs will cost $500,000 to $800,000. Borders said the association plans to apply for more grants and raise money through donations.

Acquiring exhibits, Borders said, will be the easy part. Mississippi has a rich aviation history with a network of enthusiasts willing to donate or locate artifacts. Other museums with Mississippi aviation components, including the Smithsonian, have offered artifacts and assistance.

The museum would honor Mississippi aviators. The association already has commissioned bronze busts of John C. Robinson, the first African-American pilot to fight in combat in a foreign war, World War II Flying Ace Jerry O'Keefe and Tuskegee airman Col. Lawrence Roberts.

Plans call for 20 more bronze busts because Mississippi has many aviators — and even Apollo astronauts Fred Haise and Stuart A. Roosa — to honor.

The Hurricane Hunters and Keesler Air Force Base also would be included in museum exhibits.

Anita Lee: 228-896-2331, @calee99

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