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Published: Friday, 6/25/2010

Pact to bring maritime museum to city in 2012

BY DAVID PATCH
BLADE STAFF WRITER
An artist's rendering depicts the National Great Lakes Museum on the Maumee River's east bank. An artist's rendering depicts the National Great Lakes Museum on the Maumee River's east bank.
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The Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority and the Great Lakes Historical Society have signed off on an agreement that will bring the society's museum - now in Vermilion, Ohio - to the Toledo Maritime Center, where the S.S. Willis B. Boyer museum ship also will be relocated.

During a news conference yesterday at the center in the Marina District near Front Street in East Toledo, port and historical society officials said the planned National Great Lakes Museum will open in 2012 with new exhibits from the society's artifacts, while the Boyer will be cosmetically restored this fall and winter and rechristened next summer with its original name, the Col. James M. Schoonmaker.

"Great Lakes history is critical to our nation's history, and it's critical to Toledo's history," said Chris Gillcrist, the society's executive director. The museum also will become "the epicenter of Great Lakes historical research," he said, with the society moving its "vast manuscript collection" and underwater archaeology program to Toledo.

The society is in the midst of raising $1.2 million to $2 million needed to move its collection and is reviewing proposals from five national exhibit design firms, Mr. Gillcrist said.

While the society's move will bring to Toledo the results of "65 years of collecting and decades of research," he said, "we're not just bringing out our stuff from Vermilion. We're going to create an entirely new experience."

Paul Toth, the port authority's president, said his agency and the society believe a well-promoted museum with the ship out front and visible from nearby I-280 could draw in 70,000 to 80,000 visitors per year.

Mr. Gillcrist said having the museum ship on the premises would be a key element, because it would offer "a chance to make the history come alive" that isn't available with pictures, documents, and artifacts.

The museum director displayed at the news conference items from its collection, including a ship's wheel from the five-masted schooner David Dows, launched in Toledo in 1881 and the largest vessel of its kind ever to ply the Great Lakes; a greyhound figurehead from the lakes steamer Greyhound, which sailed to various destinations from Toledo, and a builder's plate from one of several Hulett iron-ore unloaders that once worked Toledo's docks in the days before ships had onboard unloading equipment.

Port authority officials said the museum will occupy the entire Maritime Center, which was built last decade using primarily federal grants for developing ferry terminals.

Its exhibits will be set up in such a way that ferry operations will remain practical should such a service be developed in Toledo, said Paul LaMarre III, the port authority's manager of maritime operations.

"This will allow Great Lakes ferry-service passengers to witness Great Lakes history before they travel across the serenity of the Great Lakes," Mr. Lamarre said.

"We're still going to be able to use this facility for its intended purpose," Mr. Toth said.

Federal transportation officials who could order the port authority to repay $2.6 million in grants spent to build the $3.2 million terminal if ferry service never develops there have approved the museum use, he said, and the port authority continues to discuss service possibilities with ferry operators such as Jet Express.

Port spokesman Carla Firestone said the museum will become responsible for utilities and maintenance at the Maritime Center once it moves in and has agreed to split any ticket revenue in excess of $700,000 annually with the port authority.

Mayor Michael Bell pledged "whatever support is necessary to make sure this is successful," calling the museum project a beginning toward Toledo's effort to re-energize its downtown waterfront.

The historical society's longer-range plans call for building a 29,000-square-foot expansion to the Maritime Center, nearly doubling its size to accommodate larger exhibits and events.

An artist's rendering distributed at the news conference showed a glass atrium big enough to house a three-masted sailing vessel and other added space on the existing building's northwest side.

Mr. Gillcrist said such an expansion likely would cost at least $10 million to $15 million.

"This is more of a conceptual drawing - what we could do on this site," he said.

The Boyer, tentatively scheduled for towing to a drydock at the Toledo Shipyard in October, will be overhauled and repainted into its original colors before being moved back to its current mooring along the International Park wharf for the 2011 tourist season, Mr. Lamarre said. Its restored name will be concealed until a July 1, 2011 rededication, scheduled to coincide with the centennial of its original launch and to be performed by James M. Schoonmaker II, the grandson of its original namesake and whose mother christened the vessel in 1911, he said.

The rechristened vessel then will be moved to the Maritime Center site in 2012 when the museum opens, officials said.

Jim Karpinski, chairman of the historical society's board of directors, said his enthusiasm about the Toledo move is tempered by the amount of work remaining to be done, but remarked that Toledo's commitment to saving the Boyer - which was on the verge of abandonment and possible scrapping before the port authority agreed in 2007 to take over its management from the city - was "critical" to his museum's relocation from Vermilion.

Contact David Patch at:

dpatch@theblade.com

or 419-724-6094.



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