Clovis veterans district buys vacant store for museum

The Fresno BeeApril 13, 2014 

A former downtown Clovis furniture store is getting a new lease on life as a community museum for historic veterans exhibits that show how the city went to war.

The building that housed Gary O's Furniture, which closed last year, was bought by a local benefactor in a lease-to-own arrangement with the Clovis Veterans Memorial District.

Jerry Cook, a principal in Cook Land Co., bought the building for the district, and the district board agreed to a lease-purchase plan that could take as few as five years or as long as 20.

The memorial district wanted to buy the building, said Tom Wright, board president, but an outright purchase would have strained its budget.

Cook Land Co. decided to step in.

The 299 Clovis Ave. property includes the two-story, 15,262-square-foot building and about a half-acre of vacant land to the north. The purchase price was $2.4 million.

"Now, we can buy it without breaking the bank up front," Wright said.

He said the board is appointing a committee representing several community groups that could have ideas for the project.

"We want to make sure that people don't think we know everything," Wright said.

The museum will have a children's area and the half-acre to the north also will be used for the project, he said.

"We have two goals -- to preserve things and make it educational," Wright said. "But in every exhibit, we want people learning from it as they go by."

Within about six months, he expects the committee and board to know how the building will be used.

William Rice, a district board member and Fresno State business professor, is coordinating the museum theme. Rice, who was raised near Clovis and is a Vietnam War veteran, wants it to be a place where people can learn how the values of Clovis, such as farming, ranching and the logging industry, shaped its warriors and veterans.

"It will be about the context that created a mindset of the people who were raised here and decide to go to war and fight for America," he said.

The exhibits, he said, will be interactive.

The building was recently painted and workers are now inside making repairs that will allow renovation to get underway.

Under the lease agreement, the district will pay $22,000 per month for the first five years followed by $24,000 per month for five years afterward.

District revenue will be used to pay off the building after five years, said Bruce Thiesen, the district's chief executive officer.

"We don't know all of what we need to do," Thiesen said, referring to modifications for the new building.

The building also will be rented out to generate revenue. The district expanded its downtown Clovis headquarters about five years ago for additional meeting space since it was unable to meet the community's needs.

"Some days we are short of meeting space," Thiesen said.

The Memorial District was formed on June 11, 1946, to recognize and serve Clovis-area veterans. It gets revenue through property taxes from an area that's roughly the same as Clovis Unified School District.

The project is not expected to affect the existing Clovis Museum in downtown Clovis, said Peg Bos, the museum's president and a former Clovis mayor. Additional museums in downtown Clovis will enhance tourism, she said.

"They have an excellent location and the resources to make it a premier museum," Bos said. "The memorial district has always been there for us."

She said her board is eager to work with the district. The downtown Clovis museum board pays $1 per year in rent to the city of Clovis and gets about 10,000 visitors annually.

Clovis planning director Dwight Kroll said it does not appear the district will need any permits for changing the use of the building.

The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6166, mbenjamin@fresnobee.com or @beebenjamin on Twitter.

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