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Business Observer Friday, Oct. 21, 2016 5 years ago

Big swing

There's a subtle but powerful business lesson in the early days of a nonprofit's bold plan to bring a national museum to the region.
by: Mark Gordon Managing Editor

Sue Parsons Zipay, part of a pioneering group of women athletes from the 1950s, is in the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y.

Now 82, Zipay wants a hall of her own.

Not just for her, but for women athletes in all sports, in addition to women from the business side of sports and female journalists who cover sports.

Zipay, who has run a tennis school in Englewood since 1989, is the point-person on an ambitious project to bring an official Women's Sports Museum to Sarasota. It's a multimillion-dollar project that could take at least five years and fill a nationwide void. While there are several museums devoted to specific women's sports or teams, there isn't one place for all women's sports.

“I want to see something where our history could be preserved,” Zipay says. “Not just for what we did, but for all women athletes.”

Zipay played for the Rockford Peaches in the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League in 1953 and 1954. That team was the focus of the 1992 hit movie “A League of Their Own,” in which Zipay has a cameo appearance.

A nationally ranked 40-and-over tennis player later in life, Zipay envisions a sleek modern building that's home to interactive displays and educational classes. A place like that, which also honors past woman athletes and inspires future ones, would be a crowning life achievement. Says Zipay: “This would be a museum you would come back to more than once.”

But starting a museum from scratch, Zipay and her team have learned, with little funding, no building and no stuff to display, is uncommonly complex.

That's why Michael Beaumier, a Sarasota executive with national builder Gilbane Inc., and nonprofit consultant Peter Fanning, early supporters of the museum, say the key will be a hyperfocus. “The problem with most nonprofits is they chase every opportunity before they really get started,” Fanning says.

The group accomplished a big step earlier this year when it received official 501(c)(3) designation.

Next up: money, followed by recruiting well-connected people to join the board.

The group has raised about $65,000 so far, mostly from the work-in-progress board. In addition to Zipay, Beaumier and Fanning, the board includes Chris Gallagher with Hoyt Architects and prominent philanthropist Jean Weidner Goldstein, founder of the Sarasota ballet.

“There's a lot of things we have to flesh out,” says Beaumier. “We are taking baby steps.”

The group was scheduled to hold a major fundraising gala Oct. 22, which was one step. Other steps, says Fanning, include hiring staff, at least someone part time to start, and finding office space and a place to store artifacts and materials. The organization also plans to increase branding and marketing in 2017 for community awareness and fundraising.

Looming in the background could be the biggest challenge besides the money — a location. The group has zeroed in on the former GWiz children's science museum on the bayfront in downtown Sarasota. It's been vacant since late 2013. “It's the perfect location for us,” says Zipay.

Jan Thornburg, spokeswoman for the city of Sarasota, which owns the building, says there are no plans for a new tenants at GWIZ. City commissioners have directed staff to compile a price analysis between the costs of razing the structure versus renovating and rehabbing it. That report could be issued later this year.

A versatile player who played infield, outfield and even pitched — but always wanted to play shortstop — Zipay is undaunted about the museum's chances. “I'm a fighter. I don't give up,” Zipay says. “That's something that sports teaches you. You just don't give up.”

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