Auburn, the unofficial auto museum capital of Indiana, will have a new one in 2015 to add to the several it already has. It will be housed in the old Auburn Electric Co. power plant just across the parking lot from the Auburn Cord Duesenberg Museum and the National Automobile and Truck Museum on Wayne Street.
Fort Wayne contractor/entrepreneur/jack-of-all-trades/dreamer Neil Colchin has struck a deal with the city of Auburn to renovate the old power plant and turn it into Crossroads Motorcycle Museum, named for the three streets that converge at the north end of the property – Wayne Street, Ensley Avenue and Utility Drive.
Plans for the museum include displaying classic and vintage cycles and hosting monthly cycling-related activities. He'll open with a number of his own cycles and has a commitment of between 50 and 60 others, all over 30 years old, from the collections of cycling friends. When in full operation, he hopes to have as many as 200 bikes of all makes on display.
Colchin had been talking with Auburn city officials since late last year about his plan to turn the long-vacant (50 years) eyesore into a viable tourist attraction that brings money into the community and would save the city approximately $100,000 in demolition costs. His business plan for the building was finally approved in late August and he was awarded a temporary lease. A long-term lease agreement is being finalized.
“Even though I've rehabbed a number of buildings over the years,” says Colchin, “my first visit inside the old power plant late last year was a bit daunting. It was full of trash; part of the second floor had caved in, most of the windows were broken, trees had sprouted in the dirt inside the building and graffiti was everywhere. After examining it thoroughly, however, I realized it was not a hopeless cause as many viewed it and I began to see just what a great opportunity this really was. Since I began talking with the city and I submitted my business plan, I've gotten a lot of positive feedback, and I've only been called crazy a few times.”
The cleanup of the 80-year-old structure is under way now. Earlier this month a plea for volunteers on the museum's Facebook page was answered by 10 individuals who helped clean out the north room resulting in 10 dump truck loads of trash, including about 20 rows of old theater seats. Colchin figures there will be at least another dozen loads because he intends to tear out the cracked and broken floor and install radiant floor heating. Anyone interested in helping with the cleanup should check the Facebook page under Auburn Power Plant Motorcycle Museum for the date and time of the next volunteer session.
Developers had told Auburn Mayor Norm Yoder and the city council that it would take around $1.6 million to tear down the power plant and build a structure in its place. So naturally Yoder and the council members were skeptical when Colchin claimed he could make the building into a showpiece for between $250,000 and $260,000. One reason for the wide discrepancy in costs is that Colchin is doing most of the work himself with the help of friends and volunteers.
One friend/volunteer is Dave Schlemmer, retired DeKalb High School teacher, who has had an interest in the building for many years. In fact, he had his computer-assisted design students draw up ideas for possible uses for the building five years ago.
“It's too bad he (Colchin) didn't come along 10 years ago before leakage caused the northeast corner of the second floor to collapse. With the exception of that portion of the structure, the building is sound. The walls are four bricks thick and the Bethlehem Steel beams have helped keep it together all these years. Besides that, it's really beautiful and it would be a shame to tear it down.”
First on Colchin's work order after basic cleaning is to sandblast the steel window frames, install new panes of glass and put on a new roof before the end of the year. Guardian Industries of Auburn donated 5 tons of glass. All Colchin has to do is cut the 43-by-69-inch sheets to fit: 700 panes that are 14 by 20 inches, 200 that measure 13 by 17 inches, and another 100 of assorted sizes.
He's hoping a local company will assist with the roofing materials. After those two big items have been accomplished he'll be tackling the wiring, heating and plumbing.
“I'm going to pull off the plaster that is loose and crumbling and leave the solid patches on the brick walls for atmosphere. I originally thought I'd leave the graffiti, too, but have decided instead to have a friend do an Indian Motorcycle mural from an old postcard.
“The area outside the front entrance (north end) will be turned into a sculpture garden. The old transformer will be removed, but the two steel towers will remain to hold the Crossroads Motorcycle Museum sign. The walls of the entry vestibule will be covered with black, laser-etched tiles with the names of individual and corporate donors. Down the steps and inside the first display area will be a gift shop. Items sold in the shop, along with sale of the tiles and grants will support the museum.”
To keep the bike displays fresh, Colchin hopes to work out an exchange program with the Barber Motorcycle Museum in Birmingham, Ala.
He's also hopeful of working out an arrangement with the vocational school in Kendallville to have students work on bikes.
There will be a bike night once a month for riders to bring their bikes and talk to other bikers, and he's planning to start a business so riders can rent a vintage bike and tour in a group for a week or a long weekend.
“I don't mean to be disrespectful to the other museum across the parking lot,” says Colchin, “but I think I can outdraw them. There are simply more motorcycle riders than classic car owners, and they love to have a destination when they go out for a ride. I'm hoping they'll head to Crossroads Motorcycle Museum.”