Morrow aviation museum taking off

By Ed Brock

Karl Walter is cleaning out his attic, rounding up symbols of a past he shared with his wife so he can preserve the memory forever.

Walter is one of the first people to donate memorabilia to the National Museum of Commercial Aviation that Morrow city officials hope will transform an area near Southlake Mall into a miniature airport. He's already donated Eastern Airlines Uniforms worn by his wife Anne to the museum, and he's putting together his own former work clothes.

"We both had 27 years with Eastern," Walter said.

Walter's donation and a few other bits of commercial air travel history are the physical by-products of efforts by Morrow Director of Economic Development Grant Wainscott and other city officials who have begun making the museum a reality.

"It's just an idea we've been rolling around for a way to preserve the memorabilia of the airlines that made Atlanta great," Wainscott said.

There are over 20,000 retired airline employees in the Atlanta metro area, Wainscott said, and as they pass away their children and grandchildren won't necessarily hold on to those reminders of their parents' past, like uniforms, models and more.

"A lot of this memorabilia they've collected is going to go on e-Bay or in yard sales and (the former employees) don't want that," Wainscott said.

The museum will also serve as a key element in the city's Southlake Redevelopment District that Wainscott and city planners hope will transform empty wooded lots around the mall into a Savannah-style river walk, a destination entertainment district full of clubs and stylish restaurants and, along with the aviation museum, an automotive museum. There's even plans for an ice-skating rink.

But the aviation museum is the first step.

"An airport is like a city," Wainscott said. "Everybody has a story to tell and we want to give former and current airline employees a way to tell those stories."

The city has contracted with Murphy & Orr in Forest Park to design the museum. They're the same company that designed the Road to Tara Museum in downtown Jonesboro.

They are developing the museum's board of director and they're putting together an investment package to raise money for the $10 or $12 million project.

"The city has allocated $1.5 million of land in the Southlake Redevelopment District," Wainscott said.

That allocation only represents three of the four to five acres the museum will need. And why will it need all that land?

Well, they have to have some place to put the airplanes.

Along with the 30,000-square-foot main exhibit hall, designed to look like an airport terminal building, the museum will feature famous commuter airplanes like the L-1011, the Constellation and a completely restored Eastern Airlines DC-3, the first family of commercial aircraft. Currently the plan is to hang the DC-3 inside, along with replicas of the Wright Flyer and Amelia Earhart's Lockheed Vega.

The other planes will be lined up on "runways."

"It will look like an actual airport," Wainscott said.

The city knows what planes it wants and where to get them, Wainscott said.

It will be a unique experience, Wainscott hopes.

"With more than 200 Aviation Museums in the country a majority of them focus on military aviation," Wainscott said.

They hope to break ground on the museum in 18 months with a five-year construction period after that to complete it and the rest of the redevelopment district.

As for the rest of the Southlake Redevelopment District, Wainscott said the city is acquiring land and working on agreements. There are 30 acres around the mall the district will acquire through partnerships. The district, with its "eat-a-tainment" restaurants and green spaces around transformed Jester and Conine creeks, are meant to add a missing element to the rest of the city.

"We need more entertainment options in this area," Wainscott said. "We have great shopping but we need something to complement that."

Also, Wainscott said the city has acquired about 17 acres of land, worth nearly $7 million, through "creative sourcing." It also bought the old Oldsmobile dealership next to Harley-Davidson of Atlanta and tore it down.

The old dealership had been vacant for eight years, Wainscott said, and some people had considered it a sign that the market for land in that area was dead. Wainscott said that within 38 days of the city's demolition of the old dealership he received more interest in individual acres than he had acres available.

"We're creating a buzz," Wainscott said. "People know something's happening around Southlake. We've not seen this amount of activity in years."