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Transportation Museum Goes to Auction in Wake of Foreclosure

Transportation Museum - Sarah Ruiz
Photo by Sarah Ruiz. The Iowa Transportation Museum was auctioned this week after a foreclosure.

The site of the 2014 Spring Waltz was auctioned by the Sheriff’s Office this Wednesday, Sept. 30. The Iowa Transportation Museum (ITM), housed in the Spaulding Center, was foreclosed on earlier this year when they were unable to pay back loans from the State.

“A large degree of financial hardship was due to the inability [of the ITM] to secure adequate tax credits,” wrote Craig Markley in an email to The S&B. Markley is the office director for the Office of Systems Planning at the Iowa Department of Transportation.

These tax credits had originally been promised to the ITM by the federal government as a part of their new museum funding protocol. Unfortunately, soon after the ITM had secured a loan from the State of Iowa three years ago, an appeals court ruled that museums were no longer eligible for this form of federal funding. Originally having planned on using these tax credits to pay off the loan, the ITM found themselves needing to find other sources of funding to avoid foreclosure.

“That was the way all new museums across the United States were funded,” said Gordon Canfield, Mayor of Grinnell and former board member of the ITM. “We were right square in the middle of [funding the museum]. We had the finest tax lawyer in Iowa working on this thing … and he called one day and said, ‘It’s all off, no one will touch it now.’”

The ITM was foreclosed on over the summer, and MidWestOne Bank, the body that had granted the loan to the Museum, took control of the property. At the auction on Wednesday the minimum price was set at the value of the loan, about $1.2 million.

“I’m not sure what will become of the space – depends on who purchases it and what they decide to do with it. I have not heard of any other museums besides possibly having some exhibits at the new Brownell’s administration/distribution facility,” Markley wrote.

Canfield predicted that no one would be able to purchase the building during the sheriff’s auction, and he was correct. MidWestOne retained ownership of the ITM and will likely continue to operate the museum and event space until a buyer can be found.

The building has a diverse history. From 1910 to 1916, there was an automobile factory inside. The factory produced about 1,600 buggies until it shut down and was then transitioned to a women’s shoe factory.

The idea for a museum dedicated to transportation came from an Iowa State University professor, Dr. Stanley Ring, about twelve years ago. Ring was a civil engineer who specialized in road building.

“He wanted to have a museum that showed the early beginnings of road building,” Canfield said.

Ring was the inventor of the slip-form paving machine that allowed road building to become more efficient. Although his interest in roads was what sparked the idea of the transportation museum, he died before he could see it as a reality.

Despite the fundraising and interest problems it later encountered, renovations to the old factory were a success and the museum was built.

“It’s probably the most well-built building in Grinnell,” Canfield said.

The building truly became a part of Grinnell downtown life about three or four years ago as an event space for weddings and other occasions.

“It never was much before the museum took over that building, it was actually falling in, you couldn’t go in. The first floor was caved in, the second floor was rotted … the big building that’s being turned into loft apartments was filled with pigeons,” Canfield said.

The transformation of the ITM has been stark and its value as an event space and historical monument is evident. As of now, the future of the space is uncertain.

—Additional reporting by Vincent Benlloch.

Correction: October 15, 2015

An earlier version of this article contained a quote from Mayor Canfield regarding a $3 million federal grant that misrepresented the obligation of repayment for this grant. The grant will be repaid by the City of Grinnell, not by whoever currently owns or purchases the ITM. The ITM will vacate the space on October 18, 2015 and MidwestOne Bank has listed the space for sale. 

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