B&O; Museum to aid Poe House, under proposal

Baltimore will pay the B&O; Railroad Museum $180,000 to put the Edgar Allan Poe House on the road to becoming a self-sufficient, serious tourist draw, under a proposal approved by the city's Board of Estimates Wednesday.

The overriding idea is to turn the Poe House into a draw that will not only see increased attendance, which has fluctuated between 3,000 and 5,000 annually, but also make Baltimore a destination for Poe enthusiasts. It also envisions an annual operating budget of between $200,000 and $300,000 — substantially more than the $85,000 the city had been spending annually on the Poe House.

"For years, Baltimore has celebrated its connection with Edgar Allan Poe in many ways, and the Poe House played an important role," Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said in a statement. "This agreement will set the Poe House on a new course toward self-sufficiency and growth as one of Baltimore's premier cultural attractions."

The plan calls for B&O; officials to spend a year working with members of the newly formed nonprofit Poe Baltimore. It envisions an expanded website, logo, promotional brochures and orientation videos, as well as some joint operation of the two West Baltimore museums.

After a year, Poe Baltimore would assume full responsibility for operating and funding the house. The house closed Friday after 33 years of being operated by the city. Poe Baltimore and city officials have said they hope to have the house ready for a spring reopening.

Details have yet to be established, but the proposed contract with the B&O; sets a series of benchmarks that must be achieved, breaking down the $180,000 fee into four payments of $45,000 each. Among them:

•Before the second payment, Poe Baltimore must have a board and set meetings established.

•Before the third payment, the group must have approved a new interpretive tour for the house and have a website ready to go, promotional materials designed and a fundraising plan that will net at least $30,000 annually.

•Before the last payment, Poe Baltimore must have new exhibits and videos and have established a gift shop (with $15,000 of inventory purchased).

The $180,000 for the B&O; Museum will be drawn from money remaining in the Poe House account, city officials said.

Plans call for the Poe House to remain city property but be managed by Poe Baltimore, whose members have held a handful of organizational meetings in recent months. The Poe House and the B&O; Museum would share ticketing and gift-shop space.

Thomas Stosur, director of the city's Department of Planning, said the B&O; was chosen because of its proximity to the Poe House — the two structures are half-a-mile apart — and its success, drawing more than 120,000 visitors annually. Officials there also have experience running off-site attractions, with their operation of the B&O;'s historic Ellicott City station, he said.

The B&O; "does have a bit of experience running things and managing historical sites," Stosur said.

B&O; Museum officials were unavailable for comment Tuesday, but Stosur said they were "absolutely" on board with the plan. In April, when a separate consultant's report first broached the idea of a partnership between the two institutions, B&O; Museum executive director Courtney Wilson said, "The concept has merit. ... Certainly, it's in the B&O; Railroad Museum's best interests to see the Poe House succeed."

In 2010, city officials decided they could no longer afford to run the Poe House as a museum to the renowned 19th-century author, who lived there for a few years in the 1830s. They deleted its $85,000 annual budget from the city's spending plan and hired a Maryland-based consultant to explore ways of making the house self-sufficient.

Discussing the $200,000 to $300,000 the Board of Estimates foresees for a privately run Poe museum, Stosur said: "Poe Baltimore is going to need to raise a lot of money."