AACA Museum. Photo by Mr. T in DC.
A proposed merger between the Antique Automobile Club of America and the AACA Museum that would have put the club, museum and the club’s library under one roof has fallen through and in the aftermath club officials have decided to cancel further financial support for the museum.
“We’re not pleased about it at all,” AACA Executive Director Steve Moskowitz said. “What we thought was a slam dunk, they didn’t.”
As both club and museum officials acknowledged, not too many people – including members of the AACA – realized that the club and museum operated as separate entities. That situation arose at the time of the founding of the museum in 2003 due to the fact that the AACA was not then operating as a 501(c)3 non-profit. Only by establishing the museum as a non-profit could it accept monetary and vehicular donations.
“We always intended to bring the two together eventually,” Moskowitz said.
Indeed, negotiations to that end have taken place in some form or another in the 13 years since, but only over the last four years or so did those negotiations take on new life, spurred on in part by club officials’ desire to relocate club headquarters (which included the AACA Library and Research Center‘s facilities) from its location on West Governor Avenue in Hershey, Pennsylvania, across town to the museum’s site on Museum Drive, and in part by the mutual desire to avoid concurrent competing fundraising campaigns.
In the meantime, the club – which has since obtained 501(c)3 status through its merger with the library – and the museum reached an arrangement in which a portion of club members’ dues would go to the museum and in turn club members received free admission to the museum. Club officials and members, however, had no control over the museum, something that club officials thought should have been corrected.
“We wanted our members to know what their money was going toward,” Moskowitz said. “At any time (museum officials) could have changed their mission – they could have turned it into a chocolate museum or a street rod museum – and we wouldn’t have had a say.”
Jeff Bliemeister, who began as the museum’s new executive director this week, said even though the museum has showcased modified vehicles in the past, “there will be no change in the name or mission” of the museum. The museum’s mission statement stipulates that the museum “is dedicated to the celebration, preservation, education and display of motor vehicle history that provides value and entertainment for our members, hobbyists and the public.”
According to Moskowitz, as a result of museum officials’ refusal to discuss handing over an equity stake in the museum to the club during recent merger negotiations, the board of directors of the AACA decided to discontinue its support for the museum. “We chose the painful path of moving on alone as we need to build a new library and national headquarters,” he wrote in a statement.
Bliemeister estimated that the club’s support amounted to $80,000 per year, depending on the club’s membership totals, or about five percent of the museum’s $1.5 million annual operating budget. “We’re already looking at ways to replace that amount,” he said. The remainder of the budget is funded largely by ticket sales, facility rentals, and fundraising initiatives. The museum also receives support from some of the AACA’s regional chapters and the annual Elegance at Hershey, which splits a portion of its proceeds equally between the club and the museum.
According to the most recent available Form 990s, the club takes in about $2.2 million and spends about $1.8 million per year while the museum has taken in $1.6 million to $2 million and spends about $1.7 million per year.
The club’s withdrawal of support will take effect January 1, according to Moskowitz.
Bleimeister said that the museum will continue to offer free admission to AACA club members regardless of the club officials’ decision.