At the Florida Railroad Museum, the mantra has always been, “Here you ride the exhibits.”
Now, to go along with those locomotives, passenger cars and cabooses, the not-for-profit that runs the museum is planning to add a $3 million, 95,000-square-foot building to improve the experience.
Planned are a museum, 600 feet of rail car exhibit space, a freight room/meeting room, and restrooms at 12210 83rd St. E., Parrish.
This week, the Manatee County Tourist Development Council pledged up to $1.5 million spread over four years for the project. The money would be paid to the museum to reimburse it for construction expenses. The action requires approval of the Manatee County Commission.
Patrick Masterson, the president of the Florida Railroad Museum, said he is confident that with 80,000 passengers a year from popular events like Thomas the Tank Engine, the Polar Express and the Hole in the Head Gang, the museum expansion is a viable, realistic project.
“We have a revenue stream of $1.6 million to $1.7 million a year. We have tripled our attendance in the last four years,” Masterson said. “We have $200,000 to $400,000 left over after our annual expenses. That money will be used for our construction project.”
I think the railroad expansion will help keep the town of Parrish on the map. There is so much history out here.
Norma Kennedy, board member of the Parrish Civic Association
The Tourist Development Council would reimburse the museum 50 percent of what it spends on the project.
Kelly Clark, communications manager for the tourist board, said Manatee County has many tourist attractions beyond its famous beaches, citing Pittsburgh Pirates spring training, the Bradenton Riverwalk, the Village of the Arts, Mixon Fruit Farms and Dakin Dairy Farms, among others. Attractions north of the Manatee River include the Manatee County Agricultual Museum, Gamble Plantation, Emerson Point, the Florida Railroad Museum and more.
“I think it’s fantastic,” Norma Kennedy, a board member of the Parrish Civic Association, said of the Florida Railroad Museum’s plans and the funding partnership with the tourist board.
“It is a major plus for the Parrish area. It’s a dream come true,” Kennedy said.
She especially liked the fact that the museum will have a meeting room that will be available to the community. She hoped that museum improvements might help spur efforts to revitalize the heart of the village of Parrish.
“I think the railroad expansion will help keep the town of Parrish on the map. There is so much history out here,” she said.
Masterson did not have a timetable for the completion of the project, saying that the next step is to win Manatee County Commission approval of the the funding partnership, followed by completing engineering and architectural work, and obtaining site plan approval from the county.
For more information about the Florida Rail Road Museum and its events, visit frrm.org