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Plans to Run Trolleys, Museum in Cleveland Ends

Thu June 25, 2009 - Midwest Edition
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CLEVELAND (AP) Planners of a Cleveland trolley loop and museum ran into an unexpected road block.

They were convinced they had a worthwhile concept with restored old trolleys, but they couldn’t raise needed funds in a tough economy.

“They had a unique asset with the collection,” said Cleveland Planning Director Bob Brown. “It was worth giving it a try…It was well-intentioned, but they weren’t able to raise the money.”

A nonprofit group that had planned the trolley venture has abandoned the idea and instead will auction its stable of more than 30 trolley cars.

Lake Shore Electric Railway Inc. said it may put the cars on the auction block by July.

Spokesman Mark Ricchiuto said the recession put the brakes on fundraising and said Lake Shore Electric can’t ignore debts and mounting costs any longer.

Ricchiuto did not immediately return a message for information on how much Lake Erie Electric Railway had hoped to raise and how much debt it now has.

Dennis Eckart, a former U.S. congressman and a board member for the railway group, called the project “a bridge too far.”

Eckart hopes the auction will yield enough money to restore one or two cars for nostalgic use on a commuter rail line in Cleveland. “But that will be driven by what the market tells us,” Eckart said.

The cars have sat for several years in a waterfront warehouse, under a $1 annual lease with the city of Cleveland.

The lease has expired, as has a lease the railway group held on a city-owned parcel where the group had hoped to build a storage barn and museum.

Ricchiuto said the idea was partly inspired by large development plans for the Flats East Bank project, near where the Cuyahoga River meets Lake Erie. But that project stalled when available financing dried up.

The real value for the trolley project “was getting them back on the track,” Eckart said. “That became a financially insurmountable hurdle.”

Many of the cars had once been on display in Trolleyville U.S.A. in the Cleveland suburb Olmsted Township. The late Gerald E. Brookins assembled the symbols of a bygone era and ran some of them on a short track on weekends.

When Trolleyville closed in 2002, the nonprofit group formed to preserve the cars and also crafted the downtown proposal. Chip Marous, president of construction company Marous Brothers, headed the effort.

Other cities, such as Tampa, Fla., and Dallas, have drawn crowds to rail lines featuring old trolley cars.

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