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Kruse museum properties in Auburn sell, but remain in the family

Published in blog.hemmings.com

A year after announcing his retirement, Dean Kruse has sold the Kruse Museums property in Auburn, Indiana, to a trio of investors that includes his nephew, John Kruse.

“Our goal is to build on the Kruse legacy of promoting northeast Indiana by being a community-centric event and education hub of activity,” John Kruse said in a statement, released in early January. “I care deeply about our area and am excited that this facility will be positive for the entire northeast Indiana region for decades to come.”

John Kruse, co-founder of Worldwide Auctioneers, bought the property for an undisclosed sum in partnership with former U.S. Representative Marlin Stutzman and businessman Jason Bontrager. The partnership did not disclose its plans for the property; when reached by phone, a representative for the museum said that there are no plans to close the museum.

Founded as the Kruse National Military History Center and Automotive & Carriage Museum in February 2003, the Kruse museums – located in a purpose-built 200,000-square-foot facility – were to be the centerpiece of a larger 400-acre museum complex on the west side of Interstate 69, across from the former Kruse Auction Park now owned by RM Sotheby’s. Aside from the addition of the Early Ford V-8 Museum, however, those plans have not been realized and the 10 other lots surrounding the two museums have remained vacant. A planned Andy Granatelli Hall of Fame Museum connected to the Kruse museums never materialized, and a 2012 sale of that museum facility to a South Dakota collector fell through.

In addition to the military and automotive museums, the building also includes an expo center and banquet hall. However, according to comments made in Auburn Zoning Board meetings, the income generated from donations, entry fees, and room rentals are not sufficient to sustain “the size and scale” of the Kruse museums building. Indeed, according to available tax filings for the Dean Kruse Foundation, the non-profit set up to run the museums, the foundation reported about 4,000 non-event paid visitors per year and operated at a net loss in 2015, 2016, and 2017.

Following an August 2017 heart attack, Dean Kruse announced his retirement as president of the foundation and museum in December 2017, though he appeared active in searching for a buyer for the Kruse museums property last year. By September, he appeared to have made a deal with EMR Realty, a Canadian company helmed by Ed Cepuran of Windsor, Ontario.

Cepuran, who first became aware of the Kruse museums property when scouting the nearby auction park for RM Sotheby’s, told the zoning board he intended to introduce light manufacturing to the property. Specifically, he envisioned the property as a storage facility for machinery used to manufacture spare parts for out-of-production vehicles as well as an assembly facility for limited production high-end supercars.

The projected uses would require a zoning variance, however, which the zoning board unanimously denied in late October, effectively scuttling Cepuran’s plans. At the same time, John Kruse told the zoning board that he had offered to purchase the property from his uncle and that the property could continue to be used under its current zoning restrictions. In addition to use a a museum, the current zoning restrictions do permit use for automotive sales and automotive auctions.

According to the statement announcing the purchase, the trio of investors will announce their plans for the facility in the coming months.

Dean Kruse noted in the statement that he is looking forward to his retirement years. “After exploring the many options available to me, I decided that having my nephew John lead the growth and future of this highly visible asset would best serve our community,” he said.