Jeep Toledo Assembly

The Blade, published December 17, 2019
by Brooks Sutherland

After years of discussions, a Jeep museum is finally coming to Toledo.

Members of a non-profit working group announced Tuesday intentions to open the facility, which will be called The Jeep Experience, in 2022. A location for the museum, a 56,000 square-foot building that will have “interactive exhibits,” has been chosen but has not yet been announced to the public while the group works to finalize a contract. The building will be in metropolitan Toledo.

ProMedica President and CEO Randy Oostra, one of the group members, said the team has worked to model The Jeep Experience around the Harley-Davidson Museum in Milwaukee and the National Corvette Museum in Bowling Green, Ky. The group anticipates about 250,000 visitors per year and believes it will attract international tourism. The project is expected to cost $40 million.

Mr. Oostra said the group aims to make the new attraction truly experience-based, giving visitors a one-of-a-kind opportunity to see, explore, and interact with Jeep.

He added: “When you think about all the opportunities whether it’s the history, what’s happened in automotive, World War II, they use Jeeps in Jurassic Park, and then you look at engineering and design and production and art, you begin to think about it from a whole variety of opportunities.”

The group has formed a 501(c)(3), in order to establish a non-profit entity. Mr. Oostra said the museum is not a ProMedica project, but that the local health-care giant was involved in a lot of the project’s original planning. The 501(c)(3) will create a board of directors, of which Mr. Oostra will be a part. The full board will be announced at a later date and transition to taking full reins of the project.

Mr. Oostra said the idea first gained traction when members of the 22nd Century Committee, a downtown Toledo revitalization group, wrote a letter to Fiat Chrysler Automotive, the parent company of Jeep, asking for its support in bringing a Jeep museum to Toledo. Group members then began working closely with FCA leadership to move forward with the attraction. Mr. Oostra said a financial commitment by FCA has been discussed, but nothing final has been announced.

“They’ve been incredibly involved with all the planning,” Mr. Oostra said of FCA. “They want to be involved with future decisions and the board.”

Mr. Oostra added: “Part of our story to the FCA people has been what’s happened to Toledo, the renaissance of Toledo, part of that has been Jeep Fest. So being able to tell the Toledo story and all of the positive things.”

Jerry Huber, a retired Jeep plant manager and chairman of Jeep Fest, has brought his extensive knowledge of the iconic utility vehicle to the working group. He said the museum will go hand-in-hand with Jeep Fest and will bring additional attraction to the special weekend that brought 100,000 people to downtown Toledo for the weekend event this past summer. 

“My long-term vision is that when the museum is up and running, that Jeep Fest just becomes a special weekend activity and draws additional people to the area for that weekend, but will become a part of the Jeep Experience.”

Mr. Huber says the network of Jeep enthusiasts he’s communicated with leaves him confident that the museum will be a success. He said he’s often asked when Toledo will get a Jeep museum and feels there’s no better time to unveil one.

“I think from a timing standpoint, this is an excellent time to do this because we will have to pull together some type of display collection,” Mr. Huber said. “And, there are a lot of vehicles that are out there from the fellas that came back from World War II, who were automatically enthusiasts. But the problem is, that’s an aging population. A lot of the younger folks just are not interested in those kinds of things.”

Robin Whitney, ProMedica’s chief strategic planning, business development and real estate officer, said the museum will create 25 jobs. She said the group crunched numbers of “basic economic multipliers,” and they believe the attraction will pull in roughly $6 million of annual revenue.

“The history of Jeep is so embedded in our community,” she said, “so you think about World War II and the importance of the Jeep, you think about all of the manufacturing expertise, you think about the labor force and how it’s really shaped our communities and how all that can really be reflected in the experiences.”

Ms. Whitney said the museum, which will have live attractions such as an off-road trail where Jeeps can be driven, will have some sort of food service, whether it’s basic food services or a Jeep-themed restaurant. The group is also discussing a hotel adjacent to the museum.

“We think nationally there will be quite a pull for people to come to the area for this,” she said.

Ms. Whitney said there will likely be 18 months of fund-raising associated with the project before the design phase kicks off. 

Toledo Mayor Wade Kapszukiewicz believes the museum has the potential to become an iconic landmark of the city and will “be right up there” with The Toledo Museum of Art, the Toledo Zoo, Fifth Third Field, and the Huntington Center.

“It’ll be on that list of iconic institutions in our community that draw visitors into Toledo,” he said. 

Lucas County Commissioner Pete Gerken, a former Jeep employee, said FCA’s commitment to the project affirms to him that “Jeep isn’t going anywhere.”

“This means everything,” he said. “This has been a quest for anybody that’s been around that plant since the ‘70s and maybe even before, that we want a museum and we want it here.”

Mr. Oostra said some fund-raising for the museum has already begun and, based on what the group has heard about interest, they believe 2022 is a reasonable year to launch. 

“You can expect that the design and the exterior look will be striking,” Mr. Oostra said. “And representative of the best brand in the world.”