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Negotiations in progress for city to take on Burns-Belfry

The two groups responsible for bringing the Burns Belfry Museum and Multicultural Center back to life are now in negotiations to hand the historic building to the care of the city of Oxford.

During recent budget meetings, the aldermen gave a nod to including an additional $25,000 in the Oxford Historic Properties Commission’s budget for the future care of Burns-Belfry, but the deal hasn’t been signed yet, according to commission chair Jim Pryor.

Burns-Belfry is owned by the Oxford-Lafayette County Heritage Foundation; however, the Oxford Development Association, worked closely with the Heritage Foundation on the restoration of the building. Both having a vested interest in the building, they are in negotiations to come up with an agreement to formally present city leaders for their consideration. The agreement would hand the Burns-Belfry to the city, which would assume the cost of maintenance and operations, which is estimated to be about $25,000.

“We hope to soon reach an agreement for the city to take it over,” Pryor said. “The city would be responsible for its maintenance, and it would become a historic property of the city’s, and more than likely go under the Historic Properties Commission umbrella. The city would own a multimillion- dollar piece of property.”

Burns-Belfry is currently run on donations.

“All costs are paid out of a fund that largely includes donations, both from past years when donations were needed to help with the restoration and from the more recent Burns-Belfry Friends,” said Historic Properties Commission board members Darlene Copp. “The boards have limited funds to indefinitely pay the costs of maintaining and operating the building.”

The museum and cultural center is, and will continue to be, run by volunteers.

If the city agrees to take the Burns-Belfry, it will own three historic properties. Currently, the city owns the antebellum Cedar Oaks mansion and the L.Q.C. Lamar House and Museum.

Pryor and Copp said they hope to have Burns-Belfry transferred in October.

The church was built in 1910 on the site where Oxford freedmen first built their own house of worship after the Civil War. It was home to the congregation now known as Burns United Methodist Church until 1974. John Grisham purchased the building and used it as an office until he moved to Virginia. A group of citizens approached Grisham who agreed to donate the church in 2002 to the community to be restored.

After its restoration, the Burns-Belfry began a new era of service to the community as the Burns-Belfry Museum and Multicultural Center. Professionally designed exhibits present African-American history from slavery through civil rights. A few of the original church pews have been preserved and now sit in front of a large-screen television that shows interviews about the civil rights era and the church’s history.

For more information on Burns-Belfry, visit www.burns-belfry.com.