Charleston’s International African American Museum is getting a big boost that just might push it over the finish line.
Sheila Johnson, billionaire CEO of Salamander Hotels & Resorts and owner of three professional sports teams, has agreed to join the museum’s board of directors.
“Mayor Joe Riley has twisted my arm … so we’re on a journey to get this museum built,” Johnson announced Thursday at an event for the upcoming Hotel Bennett near Marion Square, which her company will manage.
Riley was Charleston’s mayor for 40 years and first announced the idea of the waterfront museum in 2000. He said he’s confident that Johnson will provide the energy to raise the final $19 million to start construction early next year. The museum is scheduled to open by the end of 2019.
“We are just very proud to have her joining the board, and she will be an extraordinarily valuable board member, as a nationally known, very successful business person,” Riley said. “She will bring ideas and additional energy to our board.”
Johnson’s Monumental Sports & Entertainment owns the NBA’s Washington Wizards, the NHL’s Washington Capitals, and the WNBA’s Washington Mystics, as well as Verizon Center in Washington, D.C. She and ex-husband Robert Johnson founded Black Entertainment Television.
“Her presence at this time could be really transformational for the museum,” Museum President Michael Moore said. “We’ve got real momentum. We’re creating a powerful board that is positioned to be a support in this effort to raise the final $19 million or so to get this built, and Sheila brings an enormous wellspring of experience and perspective and counsel and relationships that will be extremely helpful to us in our effort.”
Other recent additions to the board include Evie Colbert, a native Charlestonian and wife of comedian Stephen Colbert, and Marva Smalls, a Florence native and executive vice president and chief of staff at Viacom. Current Mayor John Tecklenburg also is on the board.
The board is scheduled to vote on Johnson’s membership and give a progress update Wednesday.
The board reported last summer that $31 million in additional donations were needed for the $75 million project. The $19 million in private donations is in addition to money promised by the city, county and state.
“I’m confident that funding will be forthcoming,” Riley said. “We believe we will begin construction early next year.”
The museum will be built on the spot by the Maritime Center where slaves entered Charleston.
“It’s something that required a substantial period of incubation because of its national significance,” Riley said. “What we are creating here is an institution to serve not just the region but an institution that will benefit and instruct our country.”