Arts Group continues lobbying for use of Warsaw’s old city hall site

Representatives of Lakeland Art Association hope to continue discussions this month on the idea of using the old Warsaw city hall for a fine art museum.

RELATED: Warsaw City Council hears proposal for fine arts museum in downtown

Melodie Koher, president of Lakeland Art Association, said they hope to discuss the plan further with Warsaw City Council at a council meeting and possibly at a strategic planning meeting.

The art association has been in existence for 50 years and has moved to numerous locations over the years. The group has exhibit space at 302 E. Winona Ave., Warsaw, which encompasses about 900 square feet.

But board members say they want more than just a new, more permanent location to display art. They believe the city and Kosciusko County would benefit from having a museum that could include exhibition  space as well as an education area and other rooms dedicated to specific artists.

They believe such a museum could be a self-sustaining tourist attraction.

The art association would like to see the city either transfer the old city hall as a “gift” to the group or lease it to the group.

Koher said they would like to see the city cover existing roof repair expenses.

Koher appeared with Dave Taylor, a Lakeland Art Association board member, at the Kosciusko County Redevelopment Commission meeting Tuesday at the invitation of that board’s president, Bruce Woodward.

Taylor said the museum could have an economic impact on the county.

“This isn’t just a place for Lakeland Art Association to hang some of their art. This is a huge, huge project that could have a tremendous impact,” Taylor said.

Woodward said the invite was extended to discuss the issue primarily because he views it as a form of economic development that could benefit the entire county.

The panel did not formally endorse the idea of the museum moving into the old city hall.

Woodward said he views the building as an “asset” that is falling into disrepair.

The Lakeland Museum of Fine Arts proposal, Woodward said, is an opportunity for the city to assist private funders in creating another attraction for the community.

He sees it as a win-win situation.

“The goal is to bring more tourism dollars to the community,” Woodward said.

The old city hall at the corner of Market and High streets has sat vacant for about five years after the city purchased and moved into the old First National Bank building across from the county courthouse.

The old city hall – believed to be about 6,000 square foot – has had a leaky roof that has caused interior damage.

Koher said they have had contractors look at the building. While they don’t have any firm estimates, she said they believe the roof repairs might cost up to $50,000 and that another $100,000 would be needed for renovations.

Taylor said he’s already received a $10,000 commitment to support renovations. He said he doesn’t think fundraising would be difficult.

He and Koher both said they believe money through county tourism revenue would be an appropriate source of support for operational expenses.

Jo Paczkowski, vice president of the Kosciusko County Convention Recreation and Visitor Commission, also appeared at Tuesday’s meeting to lend her support for the idea.

The convention and visitor’s commission is the funding authority that provides money to the county’s convention and visitor’s bureau, which is funded primarily through the county hotel tax.

While that tourism commission has not committed to anything yet in regards to the museum, Paczkowski said they are willing to consider possibly providing money for operational costs for the museum if a plan comes together.

“Our goal here is to do this without tax dollars,” Taylor said, noting that tourism dollars are generated from visitors.

Compared to other communities, such as Wabash and Elkhart, Paczkowski said she thinks Warsaw needs a stronger fine arts presence.

“I think Warsaw should certainly be able to support something,” Paczkowski said.

Taylor said he thinks the museum could be paired with other tourism entities such as Wagon Wheel Center for the Arts, to be packaged for tourist groups.

The museum would charge admission, but would set aside certain days for free admission, Taylor said.

The museum also would host workshops.

“We have ways to make this pay for itself and not be a burden on Kosciusko County,” Taylor said.

The arts group has pitched the idea twice to city officials, including a discussion last month.

Mayor Joe Thallemer said the decision on what to do with the property sits with city council, but said he would like to see the property placed back on the tax rolls.

He has said he thinks the property needs to be made available to the public.

Taylor said council members have expressed an interest in considering some kind of plan involving Lakeland Art Association.