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Collector betting comic-book heroes draw crowds to downtown museum

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A museum in the works for downtown would feature one of the world's largest collections of super hero memorabilia, including a Batmobile and costumes worn by every actor who has played Superman on TV or in the movies.

Fishers collector Dane Nash has signed a lease to open his American Super Heroes Museum in a former home of Kipp Brothers on Louisiana Street across from Union Station. The 3,200-square-foot space is downstairs from Janus Lofts and around the corner from Red Eye Cafe.

Nash, 52, began working on his dream after retiring from the insurance business in September. He hopes to open the museum and a small gift shop in March. Admission would cost $5, but children under 8 and "real-life heroes" such as firefighters, police officers and members of the military would get in free.

"It's for everybody who wants to come to downtown Indianapolis who doesn't want to go to a restaurant or bar and wants to bring the kids," Nash said.

The museum will feature a maze leading visitors through the history of Superman, starting in 1938, followed by the history of Batman. Nash got his permits Jan. 10 and hopes to begin construction soon.

Nash would not reveal the value of his collection, but fellow collector Jim Hambrick estimated it's worth $2.5 million to $3 million.

Hambrick, who owns the world's largest Superman collection, can relate to Nash's enthusiasm. He operates the Super Museum in Metropolis, Ill.--the official "home" of Superman. He's been running the museum for 15 years in Illinois and operated a traveling museum for 15 years before that.

The Indianapolis museum could work--but it won't be easy, said Hambrick, who went through three divorces in pursuit of his dream.

"Baseball. Apple pie. Super heroes. People like that stuff, and we need our heroes now more than ever," Hambrick said. "If he's got a passion for it and sticks with it, sooner or later he'll be a success."

Hambrick's advice: Know a little about retail and a lot about presentation. And diversify with souvenir sales, events and aggressive promotion, since Nash can't survive on admission charges alone.

Already, the museum is drawing interest from future convention visitors and tour bus lines. The Indianapolis Convention & Visitors Association recently posted a description of the museum on its Web site.

Notable items at the museum will include black-and-white and color costumes worn by George Reeves, which are particularly rare since Reeves often cut the "S" from his uniforms and signed them for fans, Nash said.

The collection also includes Superman costumes worn by Kirk Alyn and Christopher Reeve, along with duds from newer TV shows "Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman" and "Smallville." Nash has been in talks to acquire a costume worn by the most recent Superman actor, Brandon Routh, who starred in "Superman Returns."

The Batman portion of the museum will feature a replica of the 1989 Michael Keaton Batmobile and a 1986 Adam West Batboat.

Nash, a lifelong Hoosier, has been a fan of super heroes since he was 5. He began collecting comic books after seeing George Reeves play Superman on TV in the 1950s.

Twenty years ago, he cashed in the comic book collection and used the proceeds to buy his first screen-worn costume. During many of his 27 years as an insurance adjuster and manager, he was plotting his post-retirement plans. Nash has two partners in the museum, but declined to name them.

The museum likely will attract tourists from events such as the Gen Con gaming convention, said Doug Stephenson, vice president of Downtown Comics on Market Street near Monument Circle.

Stephenson, who said the museum won't compete with his shop, figures if the Superman museum in Metropolis (population 6,500) can succeed, why not one in Indianapolis?

"I think it'll be cool if he can get it going," Stephenson said. "He owns a lot of cool memorabilia."

The museum's space has been vacant more than three years because the location isn't ideal for a traditional retail or restaurant use. That stretch of Louisiana Street is narrow and short and difficult to access.

But the building had the high ceilings Nash needed for his displays, along with large window openings to get the Batmobile inside, said real estate broker Brian Epstein of Urban Space Commercial, who represented building owner Mansur in the deal.

"The space doesn't have a ton of visibility, but that type of museum is a destination, so I think it'll work," Epstein said.

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