Nearly two years after hatching the idea for a major new transportation museum in Greenville, organizers of the proposed The Transportation Museum of the World (TMOTW) have now found a location. The group hopes to open late next year in an old Sam’s Club on the southeast side of Greenville.
The museum’s key attraction will be its Miniature World of Trains, which organizers say will eventually be a 70,000 square-foot layout featuring hundreds of model trains and other forms of transportation.
Frank Ruby, who owns the Blue Ridge Hobbies shop, is the nonprofit group’s chairman and president. He said the idea is based off the Miniatur-Wunderland in Hamburg, Germany, which has gotten more than four million visitors since it opened 10 years ago.
“I had a bunch of my good customers and friends come to me and state that they wanted to try to do something along those lines in Greenville,” he said in an interview with South Carolina Radio Network.
The group arranged to rent out an old Sam’s Club along Laurens Road that has been vacant for years. Ruby said TMOTW volunteers hope to begin setting up once Wal-Mart’s previous lease expires at the end of the month. The goal is for the facility to open before Christmas 2012.
Now that they have an actual, physical location, the group hopes fundraising will pick up. Ruby says Phase One of the museum will cost approximately $2.1 million, and require $500,000 cash on hand.
“Up until this point, we haven’t had a building,” Ruby said, “It was hard to get funding without a building and we couldn’t get a building without funding.” He said the group has been able to get plenty of items donated, but its capital campaign has been slowed by a rough economy.
Phase One will involve 10,000 square feet of displays, with an ambitious goal of adding 5,000 more square feet of track every year. The exhibits will start out focusing on the Interstate 85 corridor and will run from downtown Greenville to outside Salisbury, North Carolina (home of “Spencer Shops,” which is now the North Carolina Transportation Museum)
Phase Two will expand the exhibits to include recreations of Columbia and the Port of Charleston. The hope is for Phase Three to reach 70,000 square feet and eventually feature Baltimore and New York– including the landmark Grand Central Terminal and Penn Station in the Big Apple.
The trains will be run entirely by computer system. Part of the plan is to let some people, such as school groups or hospital patients, run the trains remotely off-site. “You can actually download an app to your phone and operate your train on your home layout,” Ruby said, “We’re just going to take that same technology and put it on steroids.”
Ruby said the main focus of the museum will be get people interested in model railroading and educate local students about how trains fit into the everyday world’s infrastructure. That would likely involve working with sponsors, he added.
“If BMW were to be one of the sponsors of the project, we could demonstrate how the cars come off the assembly line onto the train, (go) down to the Port of Charleston, come off the train, and go onto the container ships to go overseas,” he said. He added Duke Power and Michelin have also been approached as possible partners.
He said Greenville is an ideal spot for the museum as more than 9 million people live within a day’s trip. If the museum is successful, organizers believe TMOTW could become a major tourist location that would hire 150 employees and include a restaurant, meeting facilities, rail history museum, and even an ice cream shop (along with being the new, larger location of Blue Ridge Hobbies).
Ruby said the project currently has over 200 volunteers and is run entirely on donations. If you wish to make a tax-deductible donation or want to learn how you can become involved, visit the group’s website or call (864) 255-4671.