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Published: Monday, 1/15/2001

Group proposes military museum

Several groups have come up with proposals for the 65-year-old Bay View Armory, but none has become a reality, city officials point out. Several groups have come up with proposals for the 65-year-old Bay View Armory, but none has become a reality, city officials point out.

Not too long ago, no one seemed to care about the Bay View Armory, and the 65-year-old North Toledo landmark appeared on its way to demolition.

Suddenly, everyone seems to have a plan to save the building.

The most recent group, known as the Last Patrol, has come up with yet another idea.

“We want to turn it into a military museum,” said John Nowakowski, the group's commanding officer.

Mr. Nowakowski, 36, a Marine veteran who served in Beirut, and his brother, Jeff Nowakowski, 28, started their group last year with no clear plan but a specific objective.

“The two of us - we take patriotism to a whole different level. We believe something is owed to the vets. The main focus of the museum is getting kids and younger adults interested in our country's history ... to understand why they have the freedoms they do.”

The Nowakowskis envision a museum filled with arms and equipment from every branch of the service. They see it as a place where area veterans can keep their medals and other memorabilia or where families can donate medals that belonged to deceased relatives.

“Then, when the family comes in, we can pull them out and put them on display,” John Nowakowski said. “They will be safe, and people won't have to worry about them getting lost.”

The Nowakowskis are a long way from achieving their goal. But they do have some support. Various local military and veteran groups have expressed an interest in helping out, John Nowakowski said. Several fund-raisers are planned, and the group hopes to add as many dues-paying members as possible in the near future.

RMS Consulting, a Monroe firm that specializes in tourism and recreation-land planning, is helping the Nowakowskis develop a realistic plan.

“We have a reputation for taking people's dreams and making them a realty,” said Tracy Mullins, RMS's senior planner. “We would like to see a first-class working museum there that is financially feasible.”

To that end, Mr. Mullins and the Last Patrol group will hold a forum to glean ideas.

“People will be able to give their ideas and comments,” Mr. Mullins said. “Through that process we'll get as much information as we can and then come up with a plausible plan.”

Initially, the Nowakowskis wanted to permanently secure the Philadelphia-based World War II Navy frigate - the Oliver Hazard Perry - for Toledo to serve as the cornerstone for its project.

But that is a far more costly proposition than the armory project, John Nowakowski said.

“The armory is the first step,” he said.

City council will determine the armory's fate. The city bought the armory from the state in 1997 for $80,000. On the table now is an offer by Roger Homrich, owner of Homrich Wrecking of Carleton, Mich., to buy the building for $125,000.

Mr. Homrich, who has not returned phone calls to The Blade, has told city officials he will use the armory for boat storage as part of a marina project he might develop.

Wade Kapszukiewicz, the city council member whose district includes the armory, said the city is benefiting from all the interest in a building that has not been used for years and was in jeopardy of being torn down.

He likes the idea of the military museum but said he does not favor one plan over another.

“I'm excited because they [the patrol] seem organized and because they have the consultant [Mr. Mullins],” Mr. Kapszukiewicz said. “If they can come together with a plan that empowers the community and have enough funding, then more power to them. [But] the city shouldn't be in the role of choosing one or the other. All ideas should be entertained.”

He said before Mr. Homrich's offer, council in June had authorized the sale of the armory to Meyers Boats for $150,000. The company later declined the purchase because of the high cost of renovating the building and the planned expansion of the nearby Bay View wastewater-treatment plant, according to Kelly Forgette, acting manager of the city's department of development.

“A lot of different groups have been interested over the last couple of years,” Mr. Kapszukiewicz said. “One by one, they have fallen by the wayside, primarily because the financial commitment is daunting.”

John Nowakowski is hoping his group will be different. He figures it will take $4 million to $5 million to make the armory museum-ready.

“If we can get help from the community, local unions, and others I think we can cut costs,” Mr. Nowakowski said. “I think we have a lot of support to save the building.”

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