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Archive for Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Ground broken on expansion at Old Cowtown

$1.6 million raised to pay for visitors center, amphitheater

December 15, 2004

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— It's in with the new -- but hardly out with the old -- at a museum that celebrates Kansas' pioneer days.

The Old Cowtown Museum has raised $1.6 million to update its image, starting with a 6,000-square-foot visitors center scheduled to open in 2005. Groundbreaking was set for Tuesday.

"We're looking forward to being more of a contemporary museum that has a Western feel," said Sandy Evans, the museum's director of marketing and membership.

The expansion is not designed to boost flagging visitor numbers. Attendance so far this year stands at about 62,000, compared with 55,000 a year ago.

The architects, Law/Kingdon Inc., patterned the center after a lodge. Planned improvements also include prairie landscaping and a 100-seat amphitheater for educational programs.

The center itself will include such features as a gift store, a food service area, the museum's admissions counter and outdoor patio space.

It will have an indoor capacity of 130 and patio capacity of 170.

"We know that many are looking for an immersion into the past," executive director Jan McKay said. "We hope the center will be a welcoming place to bridge today to the past."

As part of the redesign, visitors will enter the museum at its oldest part, which recreates Wichita in 1865. They can then progress through the years to the 1880s.

"Currently, they enter smack dab in the middle of 1874," McKay said.

The capital campaign started in the mid-1990s and has attracted about 200 individual and corporate donors.

"This is good for Cowtown," said Ron Holt, Sedgwick County's director of culture. "It gives them, if you will, a new front door and an added opportunity to promote Cowtown as being one of those unique, quality assets for this community."

Museum officials said money was still needed for sculptures, a water tower and watering hole. No price tag has been determined for those improvements.

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