The Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority and the Great Lakes Historical Society entered into an agreement to work collaboratively to create the National Great Lakes Maritime Museum to be located at the Toledo Maritime Center in East Toledo’s Marina District.
The historical society has about 2,400 members living across the United States and Canada. The new venture relocates the Inland Seas Maritime Museum from its current location in Vermilion, west of Cleveland, to the Toledo Maritime Center.
“We’re not just bringing stuff from Vermilion, we’re actually creating an entire new experience,” said Christopher Gillcrest, executive director of the historical society.
Port authority officials, whose organization partnered with the City of Toledo in building the Toledo Maritime Center, stepped in when the announcement was made at a press conference Thursday morning. The city owns the land the center sits on.
“As the first port authority in the State of Ohio, the Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority has always been a maritime leader. This agreement allows us to further our goal of establishing the port of Toledo as the capital of the Great Lakes — past, present, and future,” said Paul Toth, president and CEO of the port authority.
“We were at one time the world’s largest coal port and we are the second largest port on the Great Lakes and we are quite proud of our heritage,” Toth continued. “We have found an excellent partner in the Great Lakes Historical Society and we look forward to fostering the preservation of our local maritime history together.
“We will still be able to use this facility for its intended purpose (marina and passenger terminal), but we will be able to expand it,” Toth added.
The Great Lakes Historical Society plans to begin development of the Toledo facility next spring and open for the inaugural season in the spring of 2012.
The historical society’s goal over the next decade is to expand the facility to accommodate research activities, to attract traveling exhibits and to broaden educational programming. The museum will also serve as an anchor point for future riverfront development as it is adjacent to Edison Park and the newly developed City of Toledo’s Marina Drive area.
The cost to relocate museum artefacts and renovate the building for display is estimated at $1.2 to $2 million. Costs to construct an estimated 29,000 square feet expansion could run as high as $15 to $20 million. Officials say they are in the process of conducting fundraisers to move the process forward.
“I have to tell you that significant fundraising has already taken place,” Toth said.
A grant of $1.2 million from the Cultural Facilities Commission had already been awarded.
The historical society has also begun talks with the city regarding the management of the Toledo Skyway Marina, located adjacent to the maritime center.
“Toledo’s waterfront is a vital component of our quality of life and should play a greater role in economic development. Welcoming the Great Lakes Historical Society is one of many steps toward this goal and will help renew the energy on the riverfront,” said Toledo Mayor Michael P. Bell. “The partnership is a great match for the facility and reflects our maritime history.
“The city’s role in this is very easy — it’s all about support,” Mayor Bell continued. “Of all the things that I’ve been talking about from the beginning is that we have to start recreating our river front.”
Jim Karpinski, chairman of the historical society’s board, said, “This agreement is the culmination of a great deal of hard work by all of the involved parties. The final product, a National Great Lakes Maritime Museum for Toledo, Ohio, will be worth our collective blood, sweat and tears. I am confident that in 10 years we will look back on this moment with tremendous satisfaction.
“The Great Lakes Historical Society has never received its fair share of appreciation. This creation of a national museum in Toledo will go a long ways,” Karpinski added Thursday.
The Toledo Maritime Center, completed in November 2007, was funded by a Federal Ferry Boat Discretionary Grant, and was created to foster the development of cross-lake ferry service in this region. The museum will allow ferry boat passengers to witness Great Lakes history while waiting to board a vessel, port authority officials say.
“Our focus has always been on the continued development of ferry service via this facility and adding this historic maritime attraction allows us to fully utilize the space while establishing it as a major destination via waterborne transportation,” said Paul LaMarre, port authority manager of maritime affairs, who is described by Toth as a “diehard when it comes to maritime” history and affairs.
The agreement also includes partnering with the Willis B. Boyer Museum Ship to create the largest maritime attraction on the Great Lakes, the National Great Lakes Maritime Museum. The Boyer will be restored her original namesake — the Col. James M. Schoonmaker — and relocated to the riverfront adjacent to the museum structure.
The Boyer is scheduled to travel to the shipyard for restoration in October 2010. Upon restoration, the Boyer will be returned to its original location adjacent to International Park for the 2011 season in preparation for its centennial celebration which will be July 1, 2011. Upon completion of the 2011 season, the Boyer will be moved to the National Great Lakes Maritime Museum.
Fundraising efforts will include the cost of moving the Boyer for renovation and its relocation to the maritime museum.
Karpinski thanked all the volunteers who over time helped keep the Boyer preserved. He said they have saved “a piece of national maritime history.”
LaMarre called the Boyer the “most historic ship to ever sail the Great Lakes,” adding that it will receive further renovation by the Toledo Shipyard.
“She will be restored to a time that is most convenient to the shipyard,” LaMarre said.
LaMarre added that when the Boyer is rechristened the Schoonmaker, it will be done so by Col. Schoonmaker’s grandson, James M. Schoonmaker II, exactly 100 years to the moment after the date it was first christened. LaMarre said that has never been done before.