NEW ALBANY —
City Councilman Dan Coffey proposed last week to spend $100,000 of redevelopment funds to support the Vintage Fire Museum and Education Center’s effort to stay in New Albany.
The facility is located in the former Coyle auto building off Spring Street, but a deal to purchase the property hasn’t been reached and museum officials said the antique fire collection will likely have to be moved to a new home by the fall.
There had been talks with Jeffersonville about moving the museum to Clark County, but that deal is also likely off.
“A much better situation has emerged,” said Curt Peters, president of the museum’s board of directors, during a New Albany Redevelopment Commission meeting last week.
The option Peters referenced is the possibility of the museum being relocated to the former Baptist Tabernacle building at 318 E. Fourth St. in New Albany.
The purchase price for the Baptist Tabernacle is $250,000, Peters said, though he added it would cost about $300,000 more to add an elevator, refurbish the restrooms and provide adequate HVAC systems in the building.
Peters said the structure is more conducive to a museum setup than the Coyle building, and moving to the Baptist Tabernacle would allow the collection to stay in New Albany.
Coffey — who is a member of the redevelopment commission — said the body should consider paying $100,000 toward the project.
“This is more of a redevelopment issue than a council issue,” Coffey said, as he added the project would lead to the reuse of a building in downtown New Albany.
The city needs more than restaurants to draw people downtown, he continued.
“To me it’s kind of a piece of the puzzle,” Coffey said of keeping the museum in downtown New Albany.
The city owned the Baptist Tabernacle building until just a few years ago.
After being vacated, the structure was purchased under Mayor Doug England’s administration for $98,000 at a sheriff’s auction.
In 2008, strong winds ripped the roof off of the building, and it was further damaged by being exposed to the elements as the roof wasn’t replaced until last year.
The city was reimbursed $201,398 for the damage from its insurance provider, and the redevelopment commission sold the building to Keystone Restorations for $1 in 2010.
The deal specified that Keystone had to cover the repair costs to the building, which were estimated to cost $175,000.
Councilman John Gonder, who is also a member of the redevelopment commission, said he wanted to see the museum stay in New Albany and could see the city agreeing to aid with rent at the Baptist Tabernacle.
However, Peters said financial advisers have recommended the museum purchase the building instead of rent it.
According to Peters, Friends of the New Albany Fire Museum raised enough funds to pay off $350,000 of the $575,000 cost to purchase the Fred Conway collection.
The oldest piece in the collection dates back to 1756. Peters said Conway’s collection has been ranked among the top five vintage fire collections in the country.
There are no salaries given by the museum and no one receives benefits for operating the facility each Saturday, he continued.
“We have that kind of dedicated volunteers,” Peters said.
Commission officials requested Peters present additional information about the museum and proposal to move to the Baptist Tabernacle in the coming weeks.
A timeline was not established as to when the commission might vote on appropriating money for the purchase.
Mayor Jeff Gahan said he reviewed a cost analysis when the museum was proposed for the Coyle building, but added he hasn’t seen a financial breakdown for moving the facility to the Baptist Tabernacle.
“We’re glad that they’re trying to stay,” Gahan said Friday. “We plan to help them anyway we can but we haven’t figured out the financial piece yet.”
The fire museum remains open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturdays in the Coyle building at 411 E. Spring St.