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Roanoke Transportation Museum Seeks New Management | Govt. & Policy

Among planes, trains and automobiles, recognition as an official state agency would help keep operations on track for the Virginia Museum of Transportation as the organization strives to overcome challenges. by the coronavirus.

Leading the museum’s request for state funding is Senator John Edwards, D-Roanoke, who filed Senate Bill 72who would establish the Virginia Transportation Museum in downtown Roanoke as a state-sanctioned public educational institution.

The museum is housed in a former freight yard built in 1918 and is a crucial link to Roanoke’s railroad origins, Edwards said.

“It is very important that the Virginia Museum of Transportation be an agency of the state. A lot of people think it already is,” Edwards said. “It is Virginia’s official transportation museum, but it was never a state agency.”

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Designation as a state agency would help the museum raise funds, build staff and generate new programs to attract additional visitors, he said.

“Having tourism is very important to the economy of the Roanoke Valley,” Edwards said. “It’s a key agency in Roanoke to attract tourists.”

He cited data that the museum attracted more than 22,000 out-of-state visitors in pre-pandemic years, resulting in a local economic impact of $14 million.

“If we become this state agency with an additional $2 million from the state, the museum could attract 95,000 visitors and create an economic impact of $24 million,” Edwards said. “That means something economical in terms of tourism…and also culturally, Roanoke is known as a railroad town.”

On a recent weekday, the museum’s guest book showed signatures from the countries of Bahrain and the Czech Republic, as well as the states of Colorado, New York and Ohio, among other places in the country and the ‘foreign.

The museum’s business has been challenged in recent years, particularly with the arrival of the coronavirus two years ago, leading to fewer visits and lower donations, deputy director Mendy Flynn said.

“For large events in particular, I would say we had probably, I think 50% of what we usually have,” Flynn said, adding that event rentals for birthdays, weddings and corporate events are gradually returning following the 2020 coronavirus closures. “We are very positive. We move forward as if this thing is going to end.

Even in 2018 and 2019, before the coronavirus, nonprofit documents show the museum was operating at a deficit.

In the past four years, three people hired to become the museum’s executive director have left. Former museum board chairman Ken Lanford, who has served on the board since 2008, said finding a sustainable director is a work in progress.

“For some reason we just couldn’t find a way to make things work with the various directors we bought in there,” Lanford said in a phone call. “It probably has as much to do with the environment we find ourselves in with COVID, trying to manage that.”

Flynn said state support for the Virginia Museum of Transportation will mean increased benefits for the 10-employee staff and likely help restore in-kind donations to the facility.

“Especially with the arrival of the bus station, we are afraid that it will hurt us,” Flynn said, adding that the new bus structure being built next could hinder the visibility of the museum for passers-by. “We’re going to have to do something to strengthen our presence on the outside, to be more design.”

Aspects of the old Norfolk and Western Railway station at 303 Norfolk Ave. SW are simply outdated, like the 75-year-old toilet and boiler, she said. Other areas and exhibits between the automotive, rail and aviation halls only need a bit of refinishing, painting and reconsideration, while other operational aspects could be entirely renewed .

“We don’t have an advertising budget,” Flynn said. “That’s not where we can put the money we have. All our money is in operations.

Edwards said the state secretaries of education and transportation favor turning the museum into a bona fide state agency, but outgoing Governor Ralph Northam did not include funding for the transportation museum. in its final draft state budget.

If SB 72 passes votes in the state Senate and House of Delegates, new Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s administration will make the final decision on whether or not to make it law.

“It’s kind of up to that governor and his administration whether they want to support that or not,” Edwards said. “But of course first of all to put it in the budget you have to get it through the General Assembly. So we’ll see what happens.