I mentioned I had the opportunity to visit the Lincoln Museum in Springfield. While visiting, I picked up a newspaper saying that Richard Norton Smith is leaving as director of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum. The article reads “The museum is on pace to draw 600,000 visitors in its first year. The annual budget is $9 million (although today at lunch I was told the budget is $12 million.) By contrast the annual budgets for other presidential museums range from $1.8 million to $4.8 million (Ronald Reagan). Unlike these museums, the Lincoln museum gets no federal money for operating costs. Despite sky high attendance, gate receipts which stood at $2.5 million in mid-December are not nearly enough to pay costs, so state and private funds must make up the difference. The state isn’t likely to pony up for new bells and whistles, so if the museum wants new attractions to keep folks coming back, private donors will have to pay for them. The museum foundation hasn’t raised sufficient cash to have an acquisition (traveling exhibits) fund, so it must rely on gifts from collectors of Lincoln artifacts.”
I called the Dubuque, Iowa National Rivers Museum today ( I had a 21/2 visit with the development director last summer) to see how they were doing financially. They said that attendance was down to 251,000 from 301,000 the first year. Projected attendance this year is 241,000. They have fallen short of meeting operating costs both years and are conducting fund drives to make up the deficits. (This Museum was originally largely funded by the State of Iowa to boost state visitor numbers.)
As Peoria proceeds with the planning of a new downtown Museum, many are skeptical that proceeds will cover deficits. Same is true with the planned expansion of the Glen Oak Zoo which has been stuck on about $19 of the projected need of $32 million for more than two years. And what about operating costs for both projects? With no endowments of substantial size mentioned to date, who will fund the deficits?
Many questions will need to be answered over the next few months and some big ego busting decisions will probably have to be made. If not, taxpayer, be super-aware.
I suggest as do many of my friends, that one project would be dropped and the contributions shifted to a long term operating endowment for the one project that proceeds. Most believe the project dropped should be the zoo because the Peoria Park District does not have a good track record in handling losses and their fund raising efforts seem to be static. However, if both do finally get off the ground I suspect more people will be looking for a more tax friendly environment. They know they can always come back to visit.