It would be almost ironic to refer to the Golabchi exotic animal collection as a white elephant for Columbia County.
After all, though the extensive collection does actually include the head of a more-common gray elephant, a white pachyderm is one of the few dead animals not mounted among Soudy Golabchi's taxidermy trophies.
The term "white elephant" originated in ancient Thailand, describing a gift of such tremendous value that it would bankrupt the recipient.
That classic description seems tailor-made for Golabchi's collection. The big-game hunter has been seeking a new home for the display since selling the land out from under it. After getting no takers outside the area, Golabchi turned to the county's Chamber of Commerce; its officials are asking local governments to lend a hand.
The answer should be no, thanks.
Golabchi's collection of exotic mounted animals is a fascinating, fabulously excessive monument to one wealthy man's big-ticket hobby. Chamber Director Gordon Renshaw says the 400-plus mounted animals are worth $10 million; he describes the display as "breathtaking." Indeed, the 250 species inspire awe from rare onlookers fortunate enough to view the very-private display.
"(Golabchi) is known as one of the top big-game hunters in the world," says Dwight Bagwell, a former chamber president. "He has accumulated the greatest big-game collection in the world."
Those comments from Renshaw and Bagwell were directed at county commissioners recently in a plea for them to help find -- and likely fund -- a home for the display, which they contend would be a must-see tourist attraction.
County commissioners so far have reacted cautiously. They've agreed to study the possibility of a "public-private partnership" to take on the collection. A report is expected in a couple of weeks.
If, as the Chamber's boosters say, the collection is worth $10 million and would be a powerful tourist attraction, it seems that any bank would be eager to loan money for a facility to house it. Admission fees would then pay off that debt. Let the free market float or sink it.
This debate occurs, coincidentally, as county commissioners are studying ways to strengthen local efforts to promote tourism. One thing they'll learn is that they don't need to spend taxpayers' dollars to create tourist attractions; that's a function of the private sector. Above all, Columbia County should not adopt a perpetual ward of the taxpayer like the National Science Center's Fort Discovery -- a facility that would collapse without its government crutches.
At most, the county could consider providing a low-cost, long-term lease on a piece of land at Wildwood Park. Only a fraction of the parks's 900 acres is being used, and it would be easy to carve out a niche for a such a facility. But let private investors build it and maintain it.
If this taxidermy display is as good as its boosters claim, it should be able to stand on its own without taxpayers propping it up.
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