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Golf Classic aims to keep air museum ‘flying high’

Golf Classic aims to keep air museum ‘flying high’

Golf Classic aims to keep air museum ‘flying high’

Suzette Rice

Struggling at times to keep its hangar open, South Florida’s Wings Over Miami Air Museum is looking for sponsorships, from $200 to $5,000, for its Mar. 15 “Golf Classic” at Miccosukee Golf and Country Club in Kendale Lakes.

“Because of the way our lease is structured with Miami-Dade County Aviation, events like this are critical to keep the museum open and South Florida military aviation history alive,” said Suzette Rice, president, Wings Over Miami, the volunteer nonprofit organization administering the museum. Wings leases the hangar at the far western side of Kendall-Tamiami Executive Airport from the county’s Aviation Department for a payment of $6,185 per month.

“The museum is totally self-supporting,” Rice explained. “Because most of the museum’s warbirds and other aircraft can actually take to the air, Wings Over Miami is the only ‘flying museum’ south of the Orlando area,”

Golf Classic aims to keep air museum ‘flying high’

Restored aircraft attract visitors to Wings Over Miami.

Rental fees paid to the county, combined with a weak economy of recent years that has limited contributions, has resulted in an increasing standing debt with Miami-Dade County, which Rice and the board have worked to restructure with the Aviation Department.

In 2012, the Wings board received an agreement from the county to consolidate an existing debt of back rent, penalties and 18 percent interest (with an additional 18 percent interest) totaling $134,673 (without an additional 18 percent interest), an amount the non-profit began paying back on a quarterly basis last September.

The back rent, interest and penalties add up to quarterly payments of $14,769 for the museum’s all-volunteer board which is faced month-to-month with raising sufficient funding for the museum’s rent and expenses.

The museum has not missed a rent payment or even been tardy with a payment since late 2011, Rice said, adding that the non-profit organization has paid back the county almost $417,000 since the end of 2006.

“As of Jan. 23 of this year, the museum actually now owes more interest than principal on its outstanding invoices,” Rice noted.

Board members hope the Golf Classic at Miccosukee Golf and Country Club in Kendale Lakes will attract aviation fans and major businesses in graduated amounts of $5,000, $2,500, $1,000 and $200 as supporting sponsors. All will receive oncourse refreshments, a gift bag, lunch and an awards ceremony dinner, in addition to the golf round.

“In the past, events like our Classic Cars Show and Fly-ins helped subsidize contributions from the community since the board and other donors were intent on the museum preserving military aviation history,” Rice explained.

“But tightened budgets and rising costs has now put the museum in a critical situation. That’s why the golf tournament is a vital event to keep the museum in operation.”

In addition to its exhibits, Wings serves as an educational center for aviation historians and has honored the services of both male and female aviators prominent in U.S. aviation.

The facility also serves the Kendall- Tamiami Airport’s Civil Air Patrol Squadron that fosters aviation careers among teens and an operational base for adult members who often help with emergency air and rescue operations.

Hurricane Andrew in 1992 launched a series of events that changed the museum’s fortunes when the airport took a beating from the storm’s fury. At that time, aviation enthusiast Kermit Weeks’ personal collection of warbirds and other planes was secured in a hangar named “Weeks Air Museum,” a vintage collection that was destroyed.

After the storm, Weeks salvaged his remaining planes and moved them to Polk County, subsequently giving birth to “Wings Over Miami” Museum devoted to perpetuating South Florida aviation and military history, a place where visitors see restored vintage airplanes taxi out of the museum onto an adjoining tarmac.

The museum is open at 14710 SW 128 St., Wednesday through Saturday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. and on Sundays, noon-5 p.m. For more information, visit www.wingsovermiami.com or at www.facebook.com/wingsovermiami

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