The Phoenix Trolley Museum’s tenure at the edge of Margaret T. Hance Park is concluding, as a second lease extension for the facility will expire at the end of the year.
Museum officials had received a notice from the Parks and Recreation Department in August telling them to leave by Sept. 30, but they secured three extra months after meeting with the city, said Gregg Bach, spokesman for the department.
The museum has a new home, but “moving out of the location … will be a hardship,” said Robert Graham, the museum’s secretary. The facility’s budget for last year was about $10,000, and reopening in the new space could take several years.
The museum does not charge admission and relies primarily on donations.
The relocation is in anticipation of a major Hance Park renovation — with an $118 million price tag — and the park plans don’t include the museum. Instead, a skate park slated for the first phase would occupy much of the museum’s current space.
A long relocation process
The museum was founded in 1978 at Culver Street and Central Avenue, where it still is today.
Graham and the museum’s board hoped to stay at least through May, the end of the museum’s operating season, with the larger goal of a 2019 move and opening.
The museum’s board was first told to prepare to relocate in November 2015 by Michelle Dodds, Phoenix’s historic preservation officer, as the Hance Park’s revamp plans were progressing.
Then in February 2016, they were told the lease would expire in September of that year, but got an extension to September 2017. It pays a nominal $100 in rent annually.
The latest extension “is the minimum extension that would allow us to survive,” Graham said. “Our stuff will be put in storage.”
Dodds said “there is nothing historic” about the car barn where the museum’s Phoenix trolley cars reside. It is on the city-owned historic Ellis-Shackelford House property.
The museum’s planned new location, on Grand Avenue near 12th Avenue and across from Graham’s architecture firm Motley Design Group, isn’t ready to house the trolley cars or the museum’s other inventory, he said.
The museum’s limited resources have made planning and implementation a long process. Officials still are aiming for the renovation and move into the Grand Avenue location in 2019.
It’s open only on Saturdays from October to May and has low attendance, according to Graham. About 20 people visit per day when it is open.
“People didn’t even know about it,” Graham said, adding that many people weren’t interested in it even when they did know about it.
A grand vision for the museum
Graham’s vision for the museum, beyond a much more visible spot on Grand Avenue, includes making Phoenix’s bygone trolley system relevant to Phoenix history.
The museum has two of the three known surviving Phoenix trolley cars. Car No. 116 was restored to a near historically accurate state after use as a mobile home until the 1970s. The other car is in pieces and restoration work on it has stalled as the museum’s relocation has become the priority.
The Phoenix Trolley Museum also is part of the Grand Avenue Rail Project, of which Graham is president. The project seeks to construct a track on Grand from McDowell Road to a future light rail stop at Jefferson Street and 7th Avenue.
Graham said he wants to reinvent the Trolley Museum, and offer something people want.
He acknowledged the plans are far-reaching, and the museum’s priorities are the relocation effort. He estimated relocation and development costs of the museum’s new property at between $700,000 and $1 million.
While the museum will have to leave Hance Park, Graham said he thinks changes to the park will be great for downtown, and attended early planning meetings to offer his input.
Other non-historical Hance Park institutions, like the Irish Cultural Center and Japanese Friendship Garden, won’t go anywhere, Dodds noted.
As for the museum, “I certainly hope they thrive in that location,” she said.
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