Mayor Martin O'Malley is expected to announce today that the Maryland Historical Society will take over operations at the city-owned Baltimore Civil War Museum in historic President Street Station - an effort to help the struggling museum.
Attendance at the museum, which opened three years ago, has been hurt by construction and the lack of parking in the area, east of the Inner Harbor, officials said. It has been run by President Street Station Inc., a private nonprofit organization supported by donations and admissions.
"The organization has been struggling," Dennis A. Fiori, director of the Maryland Historical Society, said. "They were getting tired and asked us for help."
The Historical Society, which has its headquarters on West Monument Street in Mount Vernon, took over President Street Station's 20-year lease with the city last year, Fiori said. The lease expires in 2017, with an option for another 20-year renewal.
Tony White, a spokesman for O'Malley, confirmed the deal yesterday and stressed the importance of the site to Baltimore.
"They've been operating on a shoestring," said City Councilman John L. Cain, a member of the Friends of President Street Station group and the Maryland Historical Society.
President Street Station has been seeing only 40 to 50 visitors a week, said museum guide Paul O'Neil.
The takeover would expand the Historical Society's reach and give the state's oldest cultural institution a presence in the Inner Harbor, he said.
"It gives us another outlet to engage [the] public," he said. "It's another area of the city where there's a large audience."
Fiori said the Historical Society took over the lease of the museum, which has an operating budget of about $50,000, because it is another way to teach people about history.
The President Street station was the site of the first riot and bloodshed in the Civil War, when the 6th Massachusetts Militia arrived at the railroad station trying to pass through Baltimore on April 19, 1861. Baltimore citizens with Southern leanings stormed the militia, resulting in the death of four troop members and 11 Baltimoreans, O'Neil said.
Fiori said he plans to compare what's in the museum with what is in the Civil War Gallery at the historical society's headquarters to see if anything needs to be swapped or altered.
The city is proposing to float a $1.5 million bond issue for renovations and improvements at the Historical Society, should voters approve the measure on Tuesday's ballot.