Museum Will Go Subterranean: City Council Approves $10,000 For Moving Expenses

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MTT News Desk's picture
Matt Geiger
Pictured above, the basement of the National Mustard Museum.

The National Mustard Museum is down but not out. Literally.

The Middleton Common Council voted 5-2 to provide an additional $10,000 in Tax Increment Financing for the kooky but financially troubled museum, which will soon move into the basement of the building at 7477 Hubbard Ave. where it is currently located.

Barry Levenson, owner of the National Mustard Museum, which includes both a for-profit store and a non-profit collection of memorabilia, said the money will be used for “reimbursable moving expenses.”

The city recently approached the property’s owner, Anchor Bank, in an attempt to maintain street level access for the museum. However, Levenson said the move to the basement, which currently houses a collection valued at $100,000, is not being forced upon the business.

“The bank did not in any way force us into this,” Levenson said. “It is a rational and reasonable business decision that we have made in consultation with Anchor Bank and the city.”

“The new subterranean National Mustard Museum will have a gift shop similar to what we already have, different but exciting,” he continued. “People will find us because we will continue to be worth finding.”

Levenson said he is looking forward to the challenge. “And being just on the one lower level will mean less wear and tear on my knees,” he added.

The National Mustard Museum has struggled to pay its rent and debts in recent years; a problem Levenson said was caused by the fact that his for-profit store was unable to full subsidize his free non-profit museum. He said it is “too early to tell” if calls for donations will yield enough additional funding.

“We know that Middleton is behind us and that is a very important motivation to us,” Levenson said.

 Ald. Jim Wexler (Dist. 4), who made the motion to provide $10,000 for moving expenses, said the Mustard Museum plays an important role in Middleton, attracting vital tourism dollars to the Good Neighbor City.

“I think the city should do everything it can to keep the Mustard Museum here,” said Wexler. “I’m sorry to see it move into the basement, but I believe they can make it work.”

“It really is in our best interest to work with them,” Wexler added.

Not everyone on the city council agreed.

Ald. Gurdip Brar (Dist. 2) opposed the funding, calling it “simply outrageous.”

“Would the city do the same for another business in the downtown area or elsewhere? Brar asked rhetorically. “I doubt it.”

The National Mustard Museum (formerly the Mt. Horeb Mustard Museum) moved to Middleton with the help of $1,450,000 in city assistance. The final agreement was a three-way deal between the City of Middleton, HP Holdings and the Mustard Museum. A $1.4 million Tax Increment Financing (TIF) loan went to HP Holdings for construction of the building. $50,000 went directly to the Mustard Museum for costs associated with relocating from its former home in Mt. Horeb.

HP Holdings later went bankrupt, which is why Anchor Bank ended up owning the building.

In December of 2009, then-county executive Kathleen Falk announced the county would provide an additional $200,000 in funding for the business.

The county money was given out of the Dane County Revolving Loan fund in order to help pay for the museum’s expansion. The county financing came with a required seven-year payback and a 5.25 interest rate. Levenson later succeeded in having the interest rate on the county loan lowered to 4.25 percent.

Ald. Hans Hilbert (Dist. 7) said he’s a big fan of mustard, but went on to say he doesn’t relish the idea of providing another round of TIF funding to the museum.

“I think that the free market will ultimately dictate what happens to the museum and to the other units in the building,” said Hilbert. “Rewarding a business owner who just decided to only pay half his rent because he felt that it was too much isn’t exactly a good partnership.”

Hilbert said the city’s initial investment yielded a building that will help bolster the downtown. Additional funding, he argued, will produce little payoff.

“The City of Middleton has already made its TIF investment in bricks and mortar and have seen increment from that investment, whereas we will never realize any additional increment from paying for the museum to relocate,” Hilbert said. “The museum is attractive because of our proximity with the City of Madison and number of hotel rooms, there are many other attractions that could easily fill a void.”

For his part, Levenson said the move will allow the museum to “move forward and convince the council to declare the entire city of Middleton a ketchup-free zone.”



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