Wichita — A year after Old Cowtown Museum nearly closed for good because of debt and lack of visitors, budget problems are forcing the beleaguered attraction to delay its opening for the tourist season.
The Old West history museum was scheduled to open for the season this weekend, but its board decided to delay the opening until mid-June because the attraction is $50,000 over budget just three months into the year.
Old Cowtown Museum also can't account for up to 16 percent of its artifacts. And it has closed the kitchen in its Chuckwagon Cafe, because it can't afford the $10,000 to $20,000 needed to bring it up to restaurant standards.
Cowtown has been struggling to draw visitors and maintain buildings, and a consultant's study in March 2006 recommended either selling the museum or spending $5 million to $16 million to preserve it. Board members eventually voted to keep the attraction open but to slash its budget, most of which comes from Sedgwick County and Wichita taxpayers.
"The hardest thing as president is getting across to everyone it is a weird year and it is not going to be normal," said Jennifer Lee, Cowtown's board president.
Bob Garrett, Cowtown's interim director, said the museum can address all of its problems.
"For everything we are going through, we are still good, we are getting better," Garrett said. "I see the potential. I'm working with it every day."
But City Council member Sharon Fearey, who is a nonvoting board member, said tension still exists between the board and city and county governments because the board does not want to accept oversight from the city and county. After the museum fired its director last year, the city sent John D'Angelo, its director of arts and cultural services, to take charge of the museum's budget and strategic planning.
"If I had to identify what the tension is - money would be the big issue," Fearey said. "I don't think the board is accepting the help the city and county, through John D'Angelo, want to give them."
As far as the 1,000 to 2,000 of the 13,000 artifacts in the museum's collections that aren't accounted for, part of the problem is that the various Cowtown curators have recorded collections differently. Some of those items could still be found.
Amy Loch, curator and interim volunteer coordinator at Cowtown, has been sorting through the collections since she was hired last year and has found that some items have been missing for decades, while others were never documented. Her team has found 150 objects that had been on the missing list for about 20 years.
And Garrett said the museum can address the restaurant issue by selling prepackaged snacks and simple foods such as grilled hamburgers and hot dogs.