Monday, January 26, 2009

Museum Projections - FACTS Don't Add Up.

Three years ago the Peoria County Board voted to contribute $100,000 a year to the new museum, payable over a 6 year period. On the recommendation of Board Member Allan Mayer, the money was to be held in a separate fund until the museum raised the rest of the money. That money, now $300,000 should be available.

On 11/21/07, the museum committee approached the county with an offer that the Museum would "construct, own and operate a $65 million museum on the museum site and Caterpillar would construct a $42 million Visitors Center on land purchased from the City of Peoria. $24.5 million had been already raised by the museum leaving a shortfall of $22-24 million". The museum pointed out statutory authority for the county to become involved in the project. I add that the county has statutory authority to become involved in schools, libraries and parks and recreation facilities. The County is already in the nursing home business and cemetery business. (Springdale).

On 11/27/07, the County Board passed a resolution that supports the "concept" of the Peoria Riverfront museum but did not specify any other support. Board Member Mayer "stated that the committee agreed that this project should be regional" and the resolution passed with 16 yeas and no nays.

On 12/10/07, the board again passed a resolution "that the County Board supports the "Concept of the Peoria Riverfront Museum and it would be culturally valuable to all of Central Illinois". "Regional" had been dropped from the wording.

On 1/07.08, the County Finance Committee pass a resolution listing (13) 2008 Legislative Initiatives to be presented in a Link-Workshop with area Springfield elected officials. Among the topics was "Support legislation that would provide a voter approved regional funding vehicle for the Peoria Riverfront Museum". On Jan 10, 2008, the full board approved the links Legislative Initiatives.

At this point, County Administration met with our area legislators in Springfield to testify support to provide a vehicle (referendum) for permission from the taxpayers to support a $.025 sales tax on public facilities generating approximately $3.2 million in revenues a year to build not necessarily a museum; in fact, the referendum will not even mention the museum, nor a nursing home, libraries and parks and recreation facilities. Yet all could be included under this umbrella referendum. The new legislation allows the County to increase the taxes, but only with a referendum, from a $.025 up to a $1.0 sales tax on later. Our Finance Committee Chairman is quoted in the JS suggesting a $0.50 sales tax. This yearly $3.2 tax collection, based on $.025, would remove buying power from this community and it;' visitors of approximately $61-68 million over a 20 year period, from this community. Laws could be changed to extend this tax by future county boards.

The gates have now been opened for Peoria County to become involved in construction. design and ownership of the Riverfront Museum. Remember, the referendum does not restrict the tax money to be used only for the Riverfront Museum.

County Administration then continued working with the Museum Committee to financially digest the projected figures to make this appear to be a more than sustainable project with a possible surplus that could be used for various other public facilities. Voters previously supported a $.025 sales tax for public safety and an $.025 property tax for Bellwood nursing home. Financial people can work only with figures presented them, in this case, projections unverifiable.

On 1/14/09, Museum Officials said that Lakeview Museum's current collection totaling 5000 sq. ft. will not be moved into the new downtown museum because certain collections need temperature/climated and security controlled storage. Since the PPD owns Lakeview Museum Building and plans to relocate park headquarters there, that is interesting because the Park Administrator said they needed at least all 32,000 sq. ft. at Lakeview. Also, I do not see funds allocated by the musuem for this climate controlled securized 5,000 ft. remaining at Lakeview?

On 1/4/09, Mark Johnson, a leading spokesperson for the riverfront facilities, said on my blog site "In your analysis of revenue potentially generated for the Museum by admissions, it appears that you fail to recognize that the majority of visitors to the Museum are assumed to be member of the Museum. These members of the Museum will support the facility through their annual membership dues. In exchange for which they will receive free admission to the museum."

In the report just prepared for the county, 2011 projections are 4500 members at an average membership cost of $75.00 for a total yearly collection of only $338,000.00 toward a $4.2-3 million operating budget. Mr. Johnson's statement doesn't add up.

On the same blog, Kathleen Woith, VP of Communications for the museum wrote "The Museums Strategic Master plan calls for 78 to 83% of visitors coming from our "resident area". Yet in the study compiled by the museum claiming $14 million in new business created by the two facilities; this study claims visitors will stay 3-4 nights in local hotels. I fail to conceive of visitors coming from, say, Bloomington-Normal spending any nights in any Peoria area hotel. In fact, the study paid by Heartland Partnership compiled by Gruen Gruen and Associates in 2003reads "interviews with representatives of museums that Lakeview uses as models, shows regional museums by themselves, generate limited hotel room-night demand. This study also indicates a a "spill-over" of sales and sales tax revenues of between $490,000-$1,350,000 million a year".

The $7 million to 14 million is a guess put in it's best light.

The report by Caterpillar "consultants" submitted in 2002, shows a spill-over of $14 million a year. Museum officials believe the spill-over will be between $7-14 million per year. The Gruen Gruen report commissioned by Heartland Partnership in 2003 shows a less than $2 million spillover. Hmmmmm.

Ken Hinton called me this afternoon to tell me that he has set a budget of $4500 for his entire school district for any type of museum visits. He said he has advised all of his teachers.

Of the nine museums listed by the Museum Committee, none except possibly Louisville, Ky. increased their attendance after the opening year. In fact, Dubuque, Iowa saw their attendance fall from 301,000 to 250,000 to 220,000 and for the past two years the Director of Development has not returned my phone calls. I note the Peoria Museum report has not filled in any attendance figures for Dubuque either.

The figures given to our County Financial Officer is what he is working with. His job is not to project attendance but to put on paper what to expect IF attendance, etc. figures are met. He uses the museums figure of $400,000 a year additional funding from fund drives etc., while the museum brochure says $500,000 needed per year. At no place do I see where the $8 to 13 million endowment is guaranteed to come from.

Now there is an economy so bad people are comparing it to the worst economic time in their lifetime. And there are no glimpses of improvement in the future. With all the other taxes coming down the stream, this is the worst time to impose another tax on the populace, especially a tax that could go from $0.25 to $1.00 without another referendum. (I stand corrected. Each increment from 1/4 to 3/4 would need to be by referendum).

I will not be supporting this referendum as the 215 page document outlining the counties involvement is a long way from the $600,000 already committed and an up or down vote for a museum tax. Nor have I seen any commitments from other communities to this originally planned "Regional Museum".

This referendum if passed, looks like a county capital expenditure "slush" fund with the count in and out of owning the museum especially after 20 years when costs of maintenance, pensions and falling attendance would be the most likely scenario.


Karrie E. Alms said...

Merle: Thank you for your time and efforts to present the facts in an orderly fashion.

Glad to know that the reason to vote for funding a flawed museum project is that it is Peoria's version of an economic stimulus package per Mr. Everett. That workers need to be put to work now.

Martin Palmer said...

Where is it down on paper that the "block" Museum will get the tax money if it passes? the way it is on the ballot it is wide open as to who will recieve the money.

Merle Widmer said...

Now 2016. Latest museum super resigned. Attendance once touted to be 240,000 forever is now less than 160,000. Spokesperson said te PRM made money last year. BS. Liars figure and figures lie but the elite and wannabbes got what they wanted. Now everybody want more taxes in an already over-taxed community. So sad.