By Joel Hall
In May, the National Museum of Commercial Aviation in Forest Park closed its doors in order to make the move to a more spacious facility just a few doors down.
The new museum, set to open in September, will offer four times the exhibition space, and will appeal to adults, children and researchers alike, museum officials said.
The museum is in the process of moving from 5442 Frontage Road, Suite 102 in Forest Park, to the same address in Suite 110. Grant Wainscott, executive director of the museum, said the additional space will allow the facility to function as a "true museum," until the museum makes the move to a permanent location.
"The old place wasn't really built for the public," he said. "In the other area, a lot of things were behind glass. It wasn't really available for the kids ... We really needed to accelerate our ability to be open to the public.
"We're double the space ... just under 6,000 square feet," in the new location, said Wainscott. "At the old space, we had 1,000 square feet of space open to the public. In the new space, we have about 4,000 square feet. It's not the main building we will be in, [but] it is much more suited to the public ... This a taste of what we will have down the road."
According to Wainscott, who is also Clayton County's economic development director, the new museum will appeal to visitors of all ages. In addition to a number of permanent and rotating exhibitions, the new museum will feature: A children's play area, complete with toys, a painting station, a kid-friendly flight simulator, and a dress -up area with miniature flight uniforms; a research library complete with dated photographs and aviation periodicals, books, and other materials; and an aviation-themed art gallery featuring the works of local artists.
The museum will also boast "one of the largest" aviation-related gift shops in the area, according to Wainscott - three times the size of the gift shop at the museum's previous location. Among the items offered will be a full line of "Jay Jay the Jet Plane" toys, LEGO building sets, book bags, aviation-related children's books, airplane models, National Geographic learning toys, and paraphernalia from now-defunct airlines.
"Before we had a gift corner," Wainscott said. "This is a real gift shop. Last year, we did $10,000 in gift shop sales. This year, we expect to do about $25,000.
"You have to build your collection, your staff ... and you have to build a following," he added. "If we want to be a world-class museum and a Smithsonian affiliate, these are some of the things that need to be in place."
Chuck Maire, chairman of the board of trustees for the museum, said while the move was a difficult decision, it was necessary to accommodate public response to the museum.
"Our collection has almost had exponential growth. The more we are known, the more stuff comes in," Maire said. "We knew with the growth rate we were achieving we needed to expand. It shows you that the interest is there.
"We want it to look like a museum, not an antique shop," he continued. "That's why it is taking as long for us to open it. We want to do it right ... the way the Smithsonian [Institute] would do it. Before, we were just putting [exhibits] up where we had space. Now we are doing it in a very methodical manner. When this re-opens, I think people are really going to enjoy it."
In September, the museum will begin charging $5 admission for adults and $2 admission for children. For more information, contact the museum at (404) 675-9266.