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State reps hope sign plan flies

Tom Jackson • Jan 29, 2014 at 2:14 PM

State Rep. Chris Redfern, D-Catawba Island, agrees that the Liberty Aviation Museum deserves a highway sign on Ohio 2 — and he says he’s ready to help the museum in its dispute with the Ohio Department of Transportation.

Redfern said he’ll work with Sen. Randy Gardner, R-Bowling Green, who also represents Ottawa County.

“I have no doubt that we can be helpful,” Redfern said. “We just need to be asked”

Gardner said he only heard about the issue Tuesday but promised to follow up.

Jeff Sondles, operations director of the museum, said he’s not even asking for a new sign. He has asked District 2 of the Ohio Department of Transportation to add his museum to a brown-and-white sign at the Ohio 53 exit for Ohio 2, which already lists the Lake Erie islands, the Lake Erie Shores & Islands Welcome Center and the Perry Memorial.

Sondles contends he has shown the museum gets more than 100,000 visitors a year. He said bureaucrats at the ODOT District 2 office in Bowling Green are trying to come up with reasons to deny his request.

The museum, which opened in 2012, has a collection of exhibits and vintage airplanes and equipment, including a B-25 Mitchell bomber.

Sondles said if he can include people who come to eat at the Tin Goose Diner, the museum’s vintage eatery, he can prove he draws more than 100,000 a year. The museum actually needs to draw 108,000 people a year to qualify for the signs, said Michael Stormer, a district planning engineer at the District 2 office.

The 100,000 is a base number, but additional numbers are added depending on how far away the attraction is from the interchange, he said. The museum is 0.8 of a mile away, so it needs an additional 8,000 people, Stormer said.

Restaurants are promoted in a different kind of sign, Stormer said, and Liberty Aviation isn’t allowed to count restaurant guests in its attendance figures.

That leaves the museum with 35,000 visitors a year, he said.

“They are just arbitrarily making that call” Sondles said. “You can’t come into the diner without coming into the Liberty Aviation Museum”

Larry Fletcher, the executive director of Lake Erie Shores & Islands in Ottawa County, said he agrees with Sondles.

“People that come to the diner, in my opinion, are still coming to the same structure,” he said. “The diner is in effect a part of the museum building”

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