News and Tribune

January 24, 2013

Jeffersonville redevelopment commission approves Clark County Museum lease

Downtown arts and history center not dead yet


JEFFERSONVILLE — The Clark County Museum officially has a new home.

Jeffersonville’s Redevelopment Commission approved a lease for the museum to move into two properties at 721 and 725 Michigan Ave. One property is a home and the other is an adjacent pole barn that formerly housed a sign company.

Clark County Museum President Jeanne Burke previously said most of the renovations to the property, which was acquired by the city under the previous administration to complete its plan to develop a canal, would be done by museum volunteers.

There was however, some hesitation by some commission members in granting the length of the lease requested.

The terms of the agreement would allow the museum to lease the property for 50 years — with five renewals every 10 years — at $1 per year.

“I think it’s a great idea, I just have a hard time signing a 50-year lease,” said Commission Member Rob Stevens.

Both Commission Member Kevin LaGrange and Commission President R. Monty Snelling expressed their hesitations about signing a lease that lasts for 50 years.

“If this was just a non-profit or a business...I would agree with [Stevens],” Snelling said. “This is like an investment in our future [because] we are forgetting our past very fast.”

Greg Sekula, director of Indiana Landmarks’ Southern Regional Office, said there was another purpose in having the lease span five decades.

“One of the reasons we’re seeking a 50-year lease is the fact that, because we would not be per se the owner of the property, when we look to grant sources, grant funders are going to know there is a long-term commitment to the entity,” he said. “A 50-year lease, I think would achieve that. A 10-year lease would not.”

The lease was approved 3-1, with Stevens voting against and Commission Member James Lake absent during that portion of the meeting.


Impact of the museum move

The relocation of the museum from the site formerly proposed in the old Jeffersonville High School cafeteria along Court Avenue played a part in the end of the project known as the Pilot House. The Pilot House was designed to be an art and museum center, but stalled out when the organizers of the Pilot House did not meet the redevelopment commission’s requirements to establish the site.

Jeffersonville’s Redevelopment Commission agreed to purchase the building — near the corner of Court and Meigs avenues — for $45,000, to be paid in three installments from the Greater Clark County School Corp.

Redevelopment Commission Attorney Les Merkley explained that the second payment for the building is due before the end of the month. If the commission decided to pay the second installment of $15,000, it would forfeit its previous payment if the agreement was rescinded. 

“I think it’s a great project,” Snelling said of the Pilot House plan. “But we’re all beating around the bush, the Pilot House is dead.”

The redevelopment commission agreed to terminate the agreement with Greater Clark 4-0.While Snelling said the Pilot House project will not move forward, the possibility of an arts and history center in downtown Jeffersonville is not dead.

He offered the idea of allowing an arts center to move into the former Gray & Wells Collision Center, which has relocated to 10th Street. In addition, Snelling said the former Bales Used Auto lot off Spring Street has also been brought up in discussions to have a tenant move in that would fit with the theme of the area. Redevelopment officials would not name who the potential tenant is because the deal has not been finalized.

“What I would like to see down there is an arts, cultural and history center in downtown Jeff,” he said.

He explained that the museum’s location along Michigan Avenue would serve as the anchor for a walkable downtown art-and-history area, with the art center moving into the former collision center.

But Snelling, when offering the idea, also made a plea to the other commission members.

“Please, don’t let politics get in the way of something to make Jeffersonville better,” he said.

Look for more news from the redevelopment commission meeting in an upcoming edition of the News and Tribune.