Rogallo Foundation, which proposes building a private museum at Jockey’s Ridge State Park, asked state to keep terms of an agreement secret

The sand dunes at Jockey’s Ridge State Park in Dare County are 80 to 100 feet tall. (Photo: State Parks)

The Rogallo Foundation’s proposal if not cocksure, is certainly bold: The fledgling nonprofit wants the state to lease it a slice of Jockey’s Ridge State Park for a museum to honor the inventors of the “flexible wing” that made hang gliding possible.

The foundation would pay nothing.

For 99 years.

Under terms that would be secret — or at least that would require the state “to use their reasonable best efforts to keep the terms confidential.”

Policy Watch obtained the 12-page draft Memorandum of Agreement from the Department of Natural and Cultural Resources under the Public Records law.

Dated March 27, 2019, the draft agreement was sent from foundation president John Harris to then-Parks Deputy Director Carol Tingley, who has since retired. The draft agreement shows how the project would favor the museum and the foundation at the expense of taxpayer dollars. For example, the Department of Natural and Cultural Resources would pay for the museum’s utilities, costs of building maintenance, and any major facility improvements. Donations, admission fees and gift shop revenue would stay with the foundation to operate the museum.

DNCR spokeswoman Michele Walker told Policy Watch via email that with Tingley’s retirement and the pandemic, the foundation’s proposal “was simply not a priority.” Harris reintroduced the foundation’s intentions to current division staff a few months ago, Walker said.

In an email interview with Policy Watch last week, Walker said that discussions “regarding the possible construction of a Rogallo Museum at Jockey’s Ridge State Park are still in the very early stages, and no decision has been made about this project by either the leadership of the Division of Parks and Recreation or the Department of Natural and Cultural Resources.”

Over the last two months, Harris has also approached the Dare County Commissioners and the Town of Nags Head Board of Commissioners, asking them to support the project. Dare County voted to symbolically approve of the museum; Nags Head officials did not act.

The division can’t unilaterally lease state land. A lease agreement would have to go through the state property office, and from there to the Council of State for a vote. Ultimately, the lease could become valid only with the governor’s signature.

Although it is a separate nonprofit, the Rogallo Museum nonetheless touches on Harris’s commercial interests. Harris co-owns several for-profit businesses in and near Kitty Hawk, all of cater to kite-surfing, hang gliding and similar air sports, Policy Watch reported last week. The 12,000-square-foot museum would pay tribute to Francis and Gertrude Rogallo, who in the 1940s invented the flexible wing, the technology that underpin kite-surfing, hang gliding and similar air sports.

Under the draft agreement, the foundation would raise the $7 million to build the museum, expected to take at least three to five years. DNCR would be required to “help with the fund-raising efforts with any knowledge of available grants …”  and donors would be “recognized at every possible opportunity at the park with press releases of photos of foundation officials, the donor and hopefully park officials.”

DNCR would approve museum architectural plans. Within 12 months of the museum’s opening, the ownership title would be transferred to DNCR but all “exhibits, artifacts, inventory and equipment” would belong to the foundation.

The proposal has already encountered major headwinds. Earlier this month, former Nags Head Mayor Bob Muller sent a letter to the Nags Head Board of Commissioners asking that they not adopt a resolution of support. “There are many questions about building within state natural area,” Muller wrote. “A museum to Francis Rogallo doesn’t need to be within Jockey’s Ridge State Park. It should be on private land.”

The nonprofit group Friends of Jockey’s Ridge, which raises money to “support, enhance and promote Jockey’s Ridge State Park as a significant geologic feature of the Outer Banks” also opposes the project. At a meeting last week with State Parks Deputy Director Brian Strong, several Friends members said they were concerned about the environmental impacts of building near sensitive sand dunes, as well as the commercialization of public land. Museum admission fees could cut into donations to the Friends, which are spent on the park.

Based on the terms of the draft agreement, the Rogallo Foundation doesn’t want financial competition. If DNCR begins charging a fee to enter the park — admission is currently free — the foundation could unilaterally cancel the agreement.

The foundation can also pull out of the deal if park attendance declines by 20% or more over three consecutive years, compared to the previous three. There are exceptions for “catastrophic natural events,” such as hurricanes and floods or unforeseeable economic crises.

Dare County is routinely battered by hurricanes, nor’easters and extreme weather. Either all or portions of the county have been evacuated roughly 15 times since 1985 because of hurricanes and tropical storms, according to Dare County data. Damage totals are in the hundreds of millions of dollars.

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Rogallo Foundation, which proposes building a private museum at Jockey’s Ridge State Park, asked state to keep terms of an agreement secret