News and Tribune

September 20, 2013

No alarm bells ringing for fire museum in Jeffersonville

Tourism bureau dedicates money to museum in flux


JEFFERSONVILLE — Despite possible legal action that may be filed against the Vintage Fire Museum and Safety Education Center, a tourism bureau dedicated $25,000 to the organization.

At the Jeffersonville City Council meeting Monday the possibility of the council filing legal action against the Jeffersonville Redevelopment Commission was discussed because the council believes the commission did not follow the proper procedure to enter into a lease with the Clark County Museum and the Vintage Fire Museum. If legal action is filed, both entities would also be named in the suit.

But there is little concern among those who are working to relocate the fire museum in the former Bales Auto site along Spring Street that the effort will be thwarted.

The Clark-Floyd Counties Convention and Tourism Bureau dedicated $25,000 to the fire museum Wednesday to install garage doors on the building in order to be able to move exhibits in and out of the building. The board had also previously designated $250,000 to pay off loans to buy equipment at the fire museum.

Tony Singleton, tourism board member and member of the board’s marketing committee who presented the $25,000 request, said the board stands behind the fire museum.

“The fire museum is an asset to this community, its collection is renowned and this board will do everything in its power to support that mission,” he said. “It makes sense in my view to have it here. Between that and the [Clark] County museum both are really viable projects that could draw some folks in. That’s what this organization is trying to do.”The Jeffersonville City Council may file legal action to stop progress on the two museums planning to locate at properties purchased by the city to construct the previous administration’s plan for a canal. The Clark County Museum would be located on property along Michigan Avenue. The council asked its Attorney Scott Lewis to file a declaratory judgment to determine if the process the Redevelopment Commission took in leasing space to the fire and Clark County museums was legal. In addition, the council questioned whether or not the two properties needed to be rezoned.

Corporation and Redevelopment Commission Attorney Les Merkley previously brought a procedural issue before the council, which outlined that in order to redevelop properties within the former canal district that were purchased with Tax Increment Finance dollars, the redevelopment commission needed to bring the matter before the council to approve the change to the plan.

However, because the properties in question were being leased and not sold to the entities, Merkley said an amendment to the TIF plan was unnecessary. 

Despite a call from the council for the museums to put their respective plans on hold until a determination is made, work is underway and will continue at least on the fire museum property.

Curt Peters, president of the vintage fire museum board, said there is no concern that the museum lease will be invalidated or that it will be asked to move elsewhere as a result of the council’s potential legal challenge.

When asked what assurances he had and about potential zoning requirements Peters said, “we’re letting the legal advisors take care of that.”

He declined to name the fire museum’s legal advisors.

Jack Vissing, tourism bureau attorney and redevelopment commission member, agreed that there was no concern about a potential suit.

“All the actions were made with the approval of Buddy Downs before they were taken,” he said. Downs is an attorney for Indianapolis-based firm Ice Miller that has been advising the redevelopment commission.

Vissing said the redevelopment commission had a lease for the fire museum before a request for proposal was sent out that included the property as a potential development site.  When two proposals were returned, no one but the fire museum put an offer on the Bales property.

“They’re just grousing with Mike [Moore],” Vissing said, referring to the council. “That would be a bad thing for them to do,” he said of filing the suit.

Work is already underway to transform the building into a museum space. And events for the future museum are already lined up. Plans are already in the works to bring a national convention to the fire museum and Jeffersonville next year.

Peters said an annual convention for the fire museum network seminar is planned for Jeffersonville next year because of the museum. Sixty to 80 visitors, with an economic impact of at least $75,000, are expected for the seminar, he said.

He added that neighbors are pleased about the plans to have something move into the vacant building.

“There’s hardly anything harder on a neighborhood than buildings sitting empty,” Peters said. “We’re very pleased these buildings will be put to good use. We have no doubt that this will be positively received by the community. We think we have the enthusiastic support of the mayor and other people.”