By CURTIS PETERS
Recently, the Jeffersonville Department of Redevelopment was on the docket at the Jeffersonville Board of Zoning Appeals meeting for a “use variance” for 723 Spring St., Jeffersonville, to allow the use of an empty commercial property for a museum. It was disappointing the item was tabled before any of the docket items were considered.
What is “worthwhile” about the Vintage Fire Museum and Safety Education Center?
1. It preserves for this area a nationally famous collection of restored fire apparatus dating back to 1756; the collection is called one of the five best in the nation and of “Smithsonian quality.”
2. The museum honors the collector and primary restorer, Fred Conway, the founder of Discount Labels.
3. The museum will be a major tourist attraction and will fit in with the Big Four bridge, Schimpff’s, the Howard Steamboat Museum, the Clark County Museum and more. Already, we have had visitors from 35 states and two foreign countries in New Albany. The museum will host a national convention Nov. 6-9, 2014, and will have a positive economic impact ($75,000-$100,000 from the convention alone).
4. Working with the Jeffersonville Fire Department, the museum will offer fire safety education for school classes, scouts, and other groups.
5. It will beautify and help stabilize the area of Eighth and Spring streets. The building there is empty and could become derelict. The museum will upgrade the building inside and out and will improve the landscaping. Neighborhood businesses have expressed their enthusiasm.
6. The Museum honors firefighters, including those of 9/11, and will highlight their values.
7. The museum will help bridge barriers that exist in our region. The collection has a “national flavor” and features will showcase Jeffersonville, New Albany, Clarksville, Louisville, Madison and more.
8. The Vintage Fire Museum is a nonprofit community service and no person or group makes any profit from it.
Here are two important stories to consider: In 2009, the board’s chair attended the national convention of the Fire Museum Network in Phoenix. He mentioned that a group wished to purchase the Conway collection that had been in storage for 10 years and that the group was concerned that it might be sold and dispersed.
To his surprise, everyone there knew about the collection and was ecstatic that it might be saved. This same organization met this year in New York City, last year in Los Angeles, and next year is scheduled for Jeffersonville.
Last week, a group of Cub Scouts and their leaders showed great interest and enthusiasm as they experienced the collection, explanations, hands-on activities, and demonstrations. This happens all the time.
Here are some questions and answers:
Q: Will this beautify the neighborhood?
A: Absolutely. Designers are working to make a showcase inside and out. Our website, vintagefiremuseum.org shows a rendition of the exterior. We will use the windows to feature huge photos of historic area firehouses.
Q: Will this fit the neighborhood?
A: A project is developing to build hotels, restaurants, and more at 10th Street and Interstate 65. The museum will fit perfectly with this, and the developer of the project has said so. The museum also fits with the Big Four Bridge.
Q: Will the museum attract visitors?
A: This collection is a destination for many people from across the nation. The enthusiasm of the Fire Museum Network and the Southern Indiana and Louisville Convention and Tourism Bureaus show this.
Q: How much will you be open?
A: In New Albany, we have only opened on a preliminary basis to prepare for regular hours in a more permanent home. And, 75 percent of our visitors have come by special appointment. We now have 15 people to serve as guides, and we will be adding more. In our new home and because of the walking bridge, we plan for Friday, Saturday and Sunday hours. Our generous appointment policy will continue, and we will include additional days as needed.
Q: Are you sound financially?
A: Yes. In three years we have paid off over half of our original purchase. Our continued income comes through pledges and donations, memberships, entry fees ($5 for adults, $2 for children), our store, fundraisers, grants (one has just been awarded), and rentals for birthday parties, receptions, etc.
Q: Is any delay in moving to Jeffersonville detrimental?
A: Yes. Our site in New Albany is being sold. We want to be open in Jeffersonville when the walking bridge opens.
Q: What can you do to help?
A: Urge all departments of the city of Jeffersonville to cooperate for the good of the community. Become a museum member. Make a pledge or donation. Offer to become a guide. Help with our move. Come to our chili cook-off at The Grand, 138 E. Market, in New Albany on Thursday, Nov. 14, 5:30 to 8 p.m. See our website for details and tickets.
Thank you for your support. This is your museum, to benefit your community.
— Curtis Peters, chair, Vintage Fire Museum Board