Toledo is on the verge on adding one more gem to a cultural necklace, which includes the Toledo Museum of Art, The Toledo Zoo, The Valentine Theatre and Imagination Station, the science museum.
Lease negotiations are expected to be finalized soon between The Toledo Lucas County Port Authority and the Great Lakes Historical Society to move its Inland Seas Maritime Museum from Vermillion to the Toledo Maritime Center, located at the Marina District.
Christopher Gillcrest, society executive director, projects the museum will attract 37,000 to 61,000 visitors a year and create 10 to 12 full-time jobs and 20 to 30 part-time jobs. The society currently has two full-time employees.
Gillcrest hopes to open the museum in May of 2011, in time to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Willis B. Boyer bulk freighter, which is docked just down the river near the Anthony Wayne Bridge. The Boyer, originally named the Col. James M. Schoonmaker when it was launched in 1911, was the largest bulk freighter in the world at a time when the Titanic was the largest passenger ship in the world.
“It is arguably the most historically significant museum ship currently on the Great Lakes,” Gillcrest said.
The Boyer draws 8,000 to 10,000 visitors a year, according to Carla Firestone, port authority spokesperson. It is expected to be moved next to the museum, she added. This Queen of the Lake Freighters is one of two current local attractions that will enhance a visit to Toledo by Great Lakes enthusiasts. The other is the Toledo Harbor Lighthouse, a 1904 landmark, under restoration. The museum’s artifacts and displays will add to the lure. There are maps, ship models, Fresnel lenses, an exhibit of the Edmund Fitzgerald, which sunk in 1975 in Lake Superior with 29 men on board, a research library and a shipwreck research center.
The society is currently undertaking “Ohio’s first approved underwater archeological investigation,” Gillcrest said. The site is the resting place of the General Anthony Wayne, a side-wheel passenger steamer built in Perrysburg, which sank in Lake Erie in 1850.
Why choose Toledo as the location for this gem?
Excellent highway access, Gillcrest said. Toledo is located at the crossroads of the Ohio Turnpike and I-75. The new site would also benefit from an exit off I-280 at the new Glass City Veterans Skyway and proximity to Detroit, the nation’s 11th largest market.
Gillcrest also said the society was looking for a site with other cultural attractions. He expects the Great Lakes museum, which could be marketed along with Toledo’s other cultural venues, will attract visitors in the 51 to 65 age group, a desired tourist demographic.
“They tend to spend more. They tend to eat more. They tend to drink more,” he said, adding that this age group is more apt then their younger counterparts to dine at fine restaurants and stay in hotels.
Gillcrest also cited the location on the water, which will attract boaters and allow for viewing of commercial shipping, as Toledo is one of the most active ports on the Great Lakes.
The museum is funded through donations, grants and admission fees. No local public money is sought from the port or the City of Toledo, Firestone said.
Let’s hope the Great Lakes Historical Society and the port authority can come to terms on a lease. While many who grew up in Toledo are still unaware of the city’s role in the shipping industry, consider there are 65 major and regional ports in the Great Lakes. They handle an estimated 180 million metric tons of cargo and employ thousands, according to the Great Lakes Waterways Management Forum. In addition, the Great Lakes states are home to 4.3 million recreational boats, or about one-third of all registered boats in the United States. This industry supports more than 246,000 jobs and the economic impact to the nation is estimated at $19 billion.
The museum, coupled with the Boyer and the Toledo Harbor Lighthouse, will appeal to those who have made their living on the Great Lakes or those who have a passion for lake recreation.
It might also surprise you to know that during one visit to the Boyer I saw in the guest book the names of visitors from as far away as New Jersey, California, Australia and Peru.