Measure introduced to turn over Museum of Transportation back to private founders

CLAYTON, MO (KPLR) - A bill introduced to the St. Louis County Council, Tuesday, could turn over the ownership and operation of the Museum of Transportation from the county public parks back into the private hands of the Transport Museum Association.

The TMA opened the museum in 1944, but turned over the museum and its daily operations to the St. Louis County Parks in 1984 because of finances.  Now, they say they are stable enough to take the museum back while saving the county money.

"We’ve got a group here that did a great job of starting the museum, getting it going, fell through some hard times in 1984 and now they’re ready to take a leadership role in financing the day to day operation and providing the technical staff to get it going" said Gary Bess, Director of the St. Louis County Parks Department.

Under the measure introduced Tuesday, the county would pay the TMA $2.5 million dollars over a five-year period, ultimately phasing out their involvement with the museum.

"At the end of that period, the county will be able to save $822,000 a year from the costs of operation" said Bess.

The agreement would also ensure the property always operates as a museum and if at any point the TMA fails, ownership and operation would revert back to the county.

"County residents love their parks and we’ve already included in the agreement- that deed would have a restriction- that land will always be a park forever and we’ve also provided if the friend’s group fails all of the land and the assets would be returned to the county to operate" Bess said.

"The whole goal is to make a win, win, win operation" said Dr. Darryl Ross, President of the TMA.  "Money saving for the county- let them focus on their parks and recreation- and turn the museum operations back to the TMA" he said.

"What we are trying to do is to constantly improve and enlarge all of the activities that are going on out there so we can make it a place people will definitely want to go to" Ross said.

Tuesday council meeting included some voices of opposition to the measure.  People voicing their concerns about future usage of the land and how current employees, volunteers and their benefits would be impacted.

Dr. Ross says employees and volunteers have nothing to worry about.

"We need them for tour guides, we need them for restoration work, maintenance and other types of activities so bless their hearts and souls we can’t do it without them" Ross said.

The bill could be voted on at the council's December meeting.  Bess says at least one additional public meeting will be scheduled before that to hear comments from the community.