Have you ever rented a house, had the landlord sell the property, and the new landlord increase the rent so much you wondered how you were going to pay it?
In a nutshell that’s what’s happening to the Air Victory Museum at South Jersey Regional Airport (VAY) near Mount Holly, N.J.
Until recently the museum did not pay any rent, says Evelyn Waters, the museum registrar.
That changed because the state of New Jersey bought the 642-acre, privately owned, public use airport in 2004. While museum officials say the state is now asking for $2,000 a month in rent, state officials say no decision on the museum has been made yet.
“The state buying the airport was not necessarily a bad thing, because the land won’t become a housing development now,” says Waters. “But they told us that there are guidelines for a state airport, that they should be charging rent from everyone on the property. They are not really the enemy, but somewhere along the line they have to realize that the museum is worth saving.”
The museum occupies half of a hangar, which gives it about 26,000 square feet. The other half is occupied by a privately owned aircraft. The museum pays the electric bill for the whole building.
The museum, incorporated in 1989, has several aircraft on display, including a C-4C Skyhawk, a Corsair, a Phantom and a Tomcat. Several of the airplanes are on loan from the United States Navy.
Other artifacts include parts of Axis airplanes, a wind tunnel that was built in the early 1900s under the supervision of the Wright brothers, and military uniforms from World War I to the present.
Waters, who calls the museum “one of the best kept secrets in New Jersey,” notes that its family days and living history events are well attended, but the museum still struggles to get by.
“We survive on donations, admissions, membership and the work of volunteers,” she said. “I can see the state’s side, but we don’t know where we are going to come up with $2,000 a month. If they expect us to pay that, we are going to have to move.”
Waters suggested to state officials that the museum be granted a lease for $1 a year.
“They told me that they don’t do that anymore,” she said.
When most people do not have the money to cover a rent increase they move to a cheaper spot. In the case of the museum it’s more complicated, says Waters.
“We will have to close,” she said. “The Navy will have to figure out a way to get its airplanes back. Knowing the government, I am very concerned that it will be deep sixed.”
The other artifacts, such as the prized uniform collection, will go back to their original owners.
“Before they came to the museum they were in basements and attics and some even in living rooms,” says Waters.
Waters has been trying to get the ear of a state official to see if the museum can get a reprieve or a lower rent, but has not had any luck dealing with what she calls “the bureaucracy of the New Jersey Department of Transportation.”
According to Tim Greeley, the department’s public information officer, no operational changes have been instituted since the state purchased the facility in 2004.
“The state is in the process of reviewing the Air Victory Museum situation and a decision has not yet been made,” he said.
The state is looking for a contractor to operate the airport, he noted. “Future development will be done by the contractor with state approval,” he said. “Until the contract bids are received and the contract is awarded, contractor plans are not known.”
Tim Wagner has been the airport’s manager since the state acquired it in 2004. He has spent the past four years cleaning up VAY and creating an operations manual that has been approved by the Department of Transportation. His efforts have not gone unnoticed by the tenants, who comment that the airport has never looked better. However, he notes he has nothing to do with the museum lease.
“The issues with the museum are between the State of New Jersey, which operates the airport, and the Department of Transportation. Nothing has been disclosed. I am not in the loop on that one.”
For more information: AirVictoryMuseum.org or NJ.gov/Transportation.