Homer man seeks to float elaborate maritime museum

Ambitious plans would cost $47 million

Posted: Sunday, August 12, 2007

A central location at which to tell the story of Alaska's rich maritime heritage could soon become more than just a dream for a Homer shipwright, filmmaker and historian.

Micheal Neece, president of the nonprofit Alaska Maritime Museum Inc., envisions a museum made up of buildings in Homer where Alaskans and visitors could discover the maritime history dating back 800 years.

"I've been working on this idea for a couple of years now," he said. "We've incorporated with the state of Alaska, and the 501c3 paperwork is done and ready to go to the feds."

There are major hurdles to overcome, not the least of which is an estimated $47 million price tag. But that's work to be done.

For now, Neece is keeping his eyes on the prize, believing there is much to be learned and shared about maritime Alaska, and a museum would be the perfect repository for that knowledge.

"With 33,000 miles of coastline and thousands of years of habitation, the story of Alaska's maritime history is an important one to tell and preserve," he said.

According to Neece, if the project comes to fruition, it would include a main exhibition hall and attached convention center and multimedia theater in the center of Homer in a proposed town square area. A second building, whose theme would reflect a "working waterfront" concept, would be near the Homer Boat Harbor. A third set of buildings would house wooden boat collections and boat-building and design schools at a location to be determined.

Neece said he is seeking office space in which to begin archiving the many collections, stories, locations and artifacts pertaining to the museum's mandate of presenting 800 years of maritime history.

The project also will include development of a state-of-the-art interactive virtual museum Web site, and a research library of maritime history.

Neece envisions programs in seafaring skills and U.S. Coast Guard safety classes supporting merchant marine training programs in collaboration with other maritime education institutions.

He'd also like to see the advent of a world-class sailboat race from Homer through three Alaska historic ports to Seattle or Port Townsend, Wash., returning across the Gulf of Alaska to Homer.

"I haven't accumulated anything yet, but so many people have been offering things, including things like ship logs from the 1780s, plenty of vessels and other artifacts. But I can't accept anything until I have a physical location to store them and a curator," he said.

Establishing a museum is more than just acquiring physical space and setting up exhibits. To do it right, Neece said he is using museum criteria and guidelines established by the International Congress of Maritime Museums in England and the Council of American Maritime Museums, as well as the help of former director of the Pratt Museum, Michael Hawfield.

Neece has experience in the film industry and visited many museums. What they lack is the kind of thing that attracts people to modern theme parks virtual rides that provide a stationary viewer with an intense illusion of motion. That's the sort of thing that would not only attract visitors, but also give them the kind of sensory experience being on a ship at sea would, he said.

"No museum does that," he said.

Neece said he has spoken with people in the Alaska museum industry who have said Homer would be a good place to establish a maritime museum.

It has easy access by land, sea and air, he said. Also, Homer is relatively young, which means the museum could be established in line with Homer's development plans and grow with the community.

The next big step will be getting the museum's Web site up and running, which Neece expects to happen by the end of September.

Eventually, the museum project will have an advisory committee and a board of directors.

"The accelerated pace of the project is, in part, due to the 50th year of statehood celebration in 2009, as well as the practical cost considerations of a drawn-out project schedule," he said.

For more information, contact michaelchawk@yahoo.com, or write Box 2403, Homer, AK, 99603.

Hal Spence can be reached at hspence@ptialaska.net.

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