Fire Fighters Museum working on business plan
The Canadian Fire Fighters Museum in Port Hope. JEFF GARD/Northumberland Today file photo
It is no secret that the Canadian Fire Fighters Museum must move from its Mill Street South location, and that it has designs on acquiring the vacant Canadian Tire building on Robertson Street as its new home.
A press release from the organization sets out the progress it is making following its Nov. 1 appearance at Port Hope council to present its strategic plan and to ask for municipal assistance.
That appearance wasn't an unqualified success, museum chair Will Lambert allowed in a subsequent interview. Councillors expressed an unwillingness to act in the absence of a business plan, and their presentation was received for information purposes, without any motion or council action in support.
In hindsight, Lambert said, it was a tactical error to present their feasibility study and their request for financial assistance from the municipality on the same night, as one completely overshadowed the other.
“We just wanted to show them the good news — that the feasibility study was completed and it was very favourable, very professionally done. But that kind of got lost,” he said.
One positive result is that Councillor Robert Polutnik reiterated an offer he had made earlier — to assist with putting their business plan together, filling in the blanks and clearing up the unknowns they have been struggling with. A first meeting took place this week.
“He has agreed to come on-side and give us as much help as he can. We are going to try to work together to see if we can't calm councillors fears,” Lambert said.
“I think they were seeing a big ask come in, and it wasn't backed up by a proper, thorough business plan. I completely understand that.”
At the time, that kind of business plan was not possible, Lambert added. With recent updates from the architect, an auspicious strategic plan and Polutnik's expertise, they are taking the next step — ascertaining where their audience is, where they can be expected to come from, and relevant demographic dynamics, not to mention a look at other museums and what they are charging for admission, what kind of visitor rates they are realizing and what their sources of financial backing might be.
With that in hand, they can begin to ascertain specific forecasts for the Fire Fighters Museum such as actual operating costs and what kind of admission they will charge.
The move to a new location must be made due to the impending Port Hope Area Initiative remediation of Low Level Radioactive Waste on a corner of its current site. The museum also needs a larger, more appropriate space for a year-round operation.
The Canadian Tire building has been vacant for more than 14 years, Lambert said, and its central location is a gem — “an excellent site for a tourist attraction, bringing thousands of visitors to Port Hope yearly.
“It would also become the missing link between the downtown core and future harbour development.”
Their first step was to commission a site feasibility study by the architectural firm Lett Associates and noted museum planners Michael Lundholm and Associates. Running to more than 90 pages, the study was done in two specific parts. Phase one was to determine the Museum’s requirements. Phase two was to see if the Canadian Tire property could fulfill those requirements.
Included in the study is an overview of generic museum requirements according to national museum standards, as well as a look at how they could be applied to the existing structure and an allowable addition to the building. The report can be viewed at http://www.firemuseumcanada.com/our-vision-and-goal/.
With the completion of due diligence, the museum board feels ready to enter into negotiations with Canadian Tire Corporation, the owner of the property.
“We see this negotiation as a three-legged stool. The museum, the Municipality of Port Hope and Canadian Tire — there’s an opportunity for all three parties to gain,” he said.
“We simply need to find a way to come together and get this done.”
At the time of their council presentation, Lambert said, “We didn't know how big or how grand this thing was going to be. Judging by the plans right now, pretty big and pretty grand.
“This is big for us. We are going from being a relatively small museum and, in a period of five years, trying to transition to a major museum and a real player on the national stage.
“We are in a huge learning curve.”