On December 30, 2016, Secretary of Energy Ernie Moniz and Oak Ridge Mayor Warren Gooch signed a land transfer agreement for the American Museum of Science and Energy (AMSE). AMSE is owned by DOE and operated by UT-Battelle.
Oak Ridge Today reported on the agreement transferring AMSE's property: "The roughly 17.42 acres will be transferred from the U.S. Department of Energy to the City of Oak Ridge. It could then be transferred in two phases to a company set up by the developer of Main Street Oak Ridge.
"Under the agreement, the AMSE missions will be relocated within about one year to 18,000 square feet of space in a two-story building that once housed a Sears store next to JCPenney at Main Street Oak Ridge. That space, once finished, will be provided by TN Oak Ridge Illinois LLC, a Main Street Oak Ridge company, to the city at no cost for 15 years.
"The city will, in turn, sublease the former Sears space to DOE at no charge for 15 years, and it can be used for the public outreach and education missions now conducted at AMSE. It will also serve as a temporary visitor center for the Manhattan Project National Historical Park that is now housed at AMSE."
Secretary Moniz praised the agreement: "From the Manhattan Project of World War II to the cutting-edge materials research of today, Oak Ridge has long played a vital role in American science and security. This agreement will ensure that Oak Ridge's history is preserved and shared while providing the city a new opportunity to create jobs and strengthen the local economy."
But some Oak Ridgers are concerned that the move will negatively impact the museum and Oak Ridge's heritage tourism industry. AMSE currently attracts 65,000 visitors per year, and that number is expected to grow as the Manhattan Project National Historical Park welcomes more tourists.
"I would hate to see this museum downsized," Lloyd Stokes, a historic preservation advocate, was quoted in Oak Ridge Today. "What we are doing here is trying to tell a story that needs to be told. We can't do it in 18,000 square feet." Historic tourism can generate a lot of revenues, he said. "You sell the property," Stokes said, "You sell the golden egg."
AMSE was first opened in 1949 as the American Museum of Atomic Energy. It moved to its current building in 1975 and was renamed the American Museum of Science and Energy or AMSE in 1978. The current 55,000 square foot museum building sits at the top of a long gracefully rolling hill with oak trees. However, AMSE needed significant funds to renovate the building and put its operations on a sound footing.
For more on the land transfer agreement, please see Oak Ridge Today's excellent reporting on the issue: Council unanimously approves AMSE land transfer, DOE secretary to attend AMSE land transfer ceremony on Dec. 30, and With transfer agreement signed, plans call for developing AMSE site, relocating museum, demolishing building.