Noblesville to let Indiana Transportation Museum lease to expire

Posted at 1:38 PM, Dec 20, 2017
and last updated 2017-12-20 13:38:01-05

NOBLESVILLE, Ind. -- The Noblesvlle Parks and Recreation Board did not renew its lease with the Indiana Transportation Museum, which will expire on March 1, 2018. 

The Indiana Transportation Museum is known best for the long-running State Fair Train and the Polar Bear Express. 

“The ITM has not shown good stewardship with the resources entrusted to them for more than fifty years," Noblesville Mayor John Ditslear said in a release. "The city is excited to be working with the Nickel Plate Heritage Railroad to continue the city’s railroad history and bring the trains back to Forest Park as a safe, clean and fun tourist attraction that connects Noblesville with our neighbors in northern Hamilton County.”

After the lease is terminated on March 1, the museum has been directed to remove all equipment and vacate the current area. 

In May 2017, chemicals were found leaking from the property onto the ground. The Indiana Department of Environmental Management found that they do not pose an environmental threat. 

CALL 6 | Chemicals found leaking at Ind. Transportation Museum do not pose threat, according to IDEM

“We expect full cooperation from the ITM to ensure a smooth transition as they finalize their clean-up efforts and move their operations outside of Forest Park,” said Parks Board President Scott Noel.

The City of Noblesville provided the following Q-and-A on the Indiana Transportation Museum:

Q) Has the city contributed funds to assist ITM with expenses?

The City of Noblesville has always provided taxpayer support of the Nickel Plate through the necessary improvements made at railway intersections as well as road work on 8th Street where the train tracks sit within the roadway from Logan to Division.

The City also procured two separate funding awards from the Indiana Department of Transportation for use by the ITM – totaling $454,343. In January 2004, $289,426 was awarded for passenger car rehabilitation.

However, INDOT ended funding in December 2015 as ITM never began work on the project. In 2005, $164,917 was awarded for steam locomotive rehabilitation. INDOT again ended funding in December 2015 as the
project was by that time four years behind schedule.

In 1998, ITM received a $220,000 loan from the Hoosier Heritage Port Authority and an additional $50,000 loan for operating expenses.
Hamilton County Tourism first began working on railroad improvements with ITM in 2006 and contributed more than $500,000 in lodging tax dollars and other resources on grants and services to help support the organization.

Q) Why was the financial burden to maintain the rail tracks left to the ITM?

When the Hoosier Heritage Port Authority contracted with ITM to serve as the rail operator, ITM was charged with maintaining the rail and was permitted to run its tourism excursion trains as part of the agreement.

Q) Why is the city against saving the trains?

The city is all for saving the trains and preserving its railroad history – but responsibly and within the city’s plans for future growth of the community. The city is taking this action to end the lease with ITM in order to save the trains – giving the new operator the chance to bring a safe, clean and fun excursion train experience for visitors and residents while honoring the Nickel Plate’s rich heritage. Residents will someday soon hear the trains rumbling through Forest Park and to downtown Noblesville. 

Q) As a railroad museum, aren’t certain environmental issues expected with antique trains?

ITM claims their Standard Industrial Classification (SIC) code is 8412 (museums and art galleries), which may be true for the locomotive cars that do not move. However, the north half of the property is more accurately used by ITM as an SIC code of 3743 (railroad equipment manufacturing or heavy repair). This is considered to be a very industrialized use and not one used by museums. Furthermore, some of ITM’s activities should not take place adjacent to a residential area or in a public park.

Q) Doesn’t this move just pave the way for the Nickel Plate Trail

These actions regarding ITM’s lease have nothing to do with any trail proposed by the City of Noblesville. If the Nickel Plate Trail is built, it will remain south of downtown Noblesville and south of the current ITM location. The city’s action regarding ITM’s lease is based on the organization’s failure as a tenant in Forest Park, its failure to take responsibility for the environmental conditions it caused at a treasured city park and its failure as the sole operator on the Nickel Plate Railroad, which its leadership has squandered.

Q) Why did the Parks Board take steps to not renew the lease now?

Despite the city’s best efforts to maintain a cooperative relationship with ITM, issues between the Parks Board and ITM over their unsightly conditions have been ongoing since the 1990s. On at least two occasions – March 7, 2005 and February 4, 2008 – the board gave ultimatums to ITM about the lack of information requested and the appearance of the grounds. Each time, the board informed the ITM to “clean it up or get off the property.” The Parks Board even provided additional dumpsters to assist with clean-up efforts. It was not until May 2017 when the city became aware of the potential contamination of the site by ITM and raised the concerns beyond mere
aesthetics to one that threatens the health and safety of our treasured city park. 

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