Thursday, April 7, 2011

Mentor Railroad Museum in Financial Crisis

Mentor, Ohio:

Mentor Patch: Mentor Railroad Museum in Financial Crisis
When you visit the Western Reserve Model Railroad Museum’s website, you can’t help but notice the dozens of photos that show children who are mesmerized by the museum’s extensive layouts of tiny model trains chugging around miniature cities, towns, rolling countryside hills, flat farmlands and rugged mountainside terrains.

Last year, the Mentor museum attracted 30,000 people and created many happy memories.

But the Western Reserve Model Railroad Museum may soon become a memory, too.

“There is a definite possibility we are going to be evicted,” said Rick Montgomery, the museum’s curator and board director. “We need to raise a pretty good chunk of change and we need to do it quickly.”

The museum, which leases an 18,900-square-foot area at 7320 Justin Way, owes $100,000 in back rent and utility payments.

Montgomery said he received a notice from the property manager, Anthony Madden of Ohio Realty Advisors LLC of Richfield, that an “eviction is inevitable and only a question of time.”

“I will be sending a new default letter today (March 30) as in the past and no longer accepting payments unless significant pay down on the balance owed can be achieved,” Madden wrote in an email to Montgomery. “We need to discuss a plan to take back possession of the premises.”

However, Montgomery insists Ohio Realty is still working with him to prevent an eviction. Madden did not return a call and email message seeking comment.

Nevertheless, Montgomery said Ohio Realty has been very good to the museum and he does not want to paint property management company in a bad light.

“They (Ohio Realty) have been very willing to work with us. They have been very cooperative,” said Montgomery. “But they are a business, and they need and deserve to be paid.”

Montgomery said Ohio Realty may lease part of the museum’s space (about 5,000 square feet) and an adjoining 70,000-square-foot warehouse space to a new business. Montgomery said museum volunteers made improvements to part of the warehouse and had been planning to use it as a convention center to feature shows.

The museum was planning a $22 million expansion project and expected to receive $10.4 million in various state and federal grants, as well as corporate contributions in 2009, according to Montgomery. However, in early 2010, he learned the grants would not materialize.

“At the end of the first quarter of 2010, I started getting phone calls and letters that either the grants would not be given because of economic conditions or because of government policy changes,” said Montgomery. “It got to the point where I didn’t even want to answer the phone anymore. It was depressing.”

The museum was planning to use those grant and corporate funds to restore its steam and diesel locomotive engines and other train cars, build a storage facility and a passenger station, install railroad tracks, and renovate an adjoining warehouse space into a convention center to feature shows and other events.

Montgomery said the museum’s board of directors and about 80 volunteers have been asking everyone and anyone for donations.

“All we need is about 400 people to donate $50 a month, or $600 this year, and that will be enough to help us move forward and become self-sufficient,” Montgomery said.

Those funds, if raised, would total more than $200,000 and enable the museum to pay off the landlord and use the balance for continuing operations.

Montgomery said the museum is generating about $6,000 a month in revenues from its gift shop, snack bar, train rides and contributions from patrons.

Additional revenue programs would eventually generate about $11,000 a month, said Montgomery.

However, the monthly operating expenses of the museum, which includes rent, utilities and other expenses, amounts to $15,000 a month. The museum has no full-time or part-time employees. Montgomery does not receive compensation.

“We have placed some other offers on the table with the landlord to try to resolve the situation possibly by downsizing or moving to a smaller space, but we just don’t know at this point,” Montgomery said. "It's still very much in the air

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