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Car museum, World of Speed, set to open fall 2014

It has taken months of behind-the-scenes work, but the end result will be a new exotic car museum in Wilsonville.

World of Speed, a nonprofit group headed by Tony Thacker, a former Southern California auto racing entrepreneur, will soon be taking up residence in what is now the Wilsonville Town and Country Jeep Dodge dealership off Southwest 95th Avenue.

World of Speed purchased the 80,000-square-foot facility from Town and Country CEO Ralph Martinez earlier this year following a lengthy negotiation period. Terms of the sale were not disclosed, but county records indicate the property was sold on April 25 for $7.15 million.

“This is a one-of-a-kind opportunity to showcase this sport,” said Thacker, who formerly was the executive director of the Wally Parks National Hot Rod Association Motorsports Museum in Pomona, Calif.

The museum is currently scheduled to open in the fall of 2014. As envisioned, it will house and display more than 100 vehicles, a workshop and space for educational activities. World of Speed’s collection includes race and performance cars from NASCAR, land speed racing, drag racing, open wheel, sports cars and motorcycles. It will include classic American muscle cars, historic race cars and race cars with a Pacific Northwest connection.

For Thacker, the venture is about educating the public about the value of the automobile to American culture. In addition, a more practical side of that equation also will be emphasized.

“Vocational education has all but disappeared from our schools at a time when the auto industry needs designers, engineers and mechanics more than ever,” said Thacker, who has the backing of the Marie Landform Charitable Foundation, according to documents submitted to the city of Wilsonville. “Oregon is the perfect location to attract and inspire young people to explore the array of promising careers in a very dynamic and popular industry.”

World of Speed and foundation representatives first began meeting with city planning staff late last year about the possibility of converting the Town and Country Jeep Dodge dealership into a museum. From the city’s standpoint, it’s an easy switch.

“The museum is proposed within the same building envelope and equally or better meets the standards of this section including habitat-friendly development practices,” states a city staff analysis.

Local officials are also pleased by the development, which continues a string of recent business gains for the city.

“He seems very knowledgeable in the brief conversation I’ve had with him, so it seems very exciting,” said Wilsonville Mayor Tim Knapp, himself a car enthusiast who currently is restoring a 1919 Ford Model T hot rod. “The other component is that what the owner seems dedicated to is interacting with students and having the educational component and an exposure to the technical side for kids who otherwise might not have that exposure.”

The museum already has been in the works for some time. A formal application to make the switch was received by the city in February and given approval in March. Because the museum already was a permitted use for the property, a public hearing was not required. The only hangup since has been negotiation surrounding the purchase of the building.

Martinez, who runs Zenitram Properties LLC, along with the Dodge dealership and a host of other metro area businesses, told the Spokesman in March that he did not want to comment on the possibility of a museum moving into his building, citing fears of damaging the ongoing negotiations.

He added that he liked the idea of the museum because it likely will be an overall positive for the city.

“It seems like it’s something that could benefit the community,” Martinez said. “There are philanthropic aspects to it, which are nice to hear, so it’s doing the community some positive.”

Knapp agreed. He said the museum eventually could be a significant tourist attraction, among other things.

“It could be a huge draw,” he said. “You talk about tourism, that could be a component of tourism that we’ve never had, and it reaches an different audience than the horse activities.”

Knapp added that the Pacific Northwest has a rich auto racing history that might surprise the uninitiated.

“There were racetracks around in the 1920s, there was one near 12-Mile in Gresham, there was one in Tacoma,” he said. “There were just a variety of different arenas that go back even back to the World War I era.”

Martinez said the initial approach from World of Speed took him by surprise.

“I don’t even know what brought this about, to be honest with you,” Martinez said. “We just repainted the store and got new signs, we were not even planning for this. It’s an opportunity that became available to us.”

Martinez founded Town and Country Dodge in 1985 and has since expanded across the metro region.

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