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Archive for Friday, September 30, 2005

County kicks in $190,000 to keep museum going

Attendance at 52-year-old Old Cowtown Museum has been lagging in recent years; tourism study under way

September 30, 2005

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— As a museum dedicated to the Wichita area's Old West heritage struggles with declining attendance, Sedgwick County has agreed to ante up more money to keep it from closing.

The county had already budgeted $100,000 for a consultant's study of the Old Cowtown Museum, and on Wednesday commissioners approved spending another $190,000 so it can continue operating through the end of the year.

Attendance at the museum, which opened in 1953, is down 17 percent this year. The study by Museum Management Consultants of San Francisco is designed to recommend changes that would help draw more visitors, local as well as out-of-towners.

The results are due by the end of the year. Consultants have conducted interviews in the city and will have an interim report, then return in November for focus group sessions, assistant county manager Ron Holt said.

Ben Sciortino, a county commissioner who serves on the museum's board, said the $190,000 would give the museum a chance to determine its future.

"The challenge for my colleagues on the Cowtown board is that we have to have a better balance between living history and entertainment," he said.

The county has already approved its 2006 budget, which includes funding for Cowtown. Because of that, and the $100,000 being spent on the consultant's study, it would be unwise not to keep the museum going, commissioners said.

"We need to stay in the game and provide this financing," said David Unruh, the commission chairman.

The nonprofit museum, which gets financial support from Sedgwick County and the city of Wichita, features more than 40 buildings representative of activities in the area from about 1865 to 1880, a time when it became an important railroad shipping point for cattle driven into Kansas from Texas along the Chisholm Trail.

The Santa Fe Railroad reached the region in 1872, helping spur rapid growth of the community as cattle and grain shipment expanded.

The museum grounds include everything from a blacksmith shop to a bank to a saloon to a livery stable, as well as homes and even a five-acre working farm.

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