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Archive for Sunday, March 2, 2008

Hutchinson salt museum hopes to break even

March 2, 2008

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— Pomona high school students, Girl Scouts from Salina and Rosalyn Blackmore, a grandmother from Leicestershire, England, all contributed to the turnaround happening at the Kansas Underground Salt Museum.

They joined the ranks of more than 4,000 people who have visited the salt mine this year.

For the museum that specializes in taking people 650 feet down, business is on an upswing. Visitation topped projections during each of the first six weeks of 2008.

The volume doesn't rival spring and summer tourist traffic, and admission revenues haven't generated enough money to restore staff cuts or even to cover expenses.

However, the better-than-expected numbers provide a running start to what officials hope is a break-even fiscal year.

Last year, the new museum's costs required Reno County Historical Society representatives to approach Hutchinson city leaders for an infusion of cash. They received $32,525 to reach the end of 2007, and another $35,000 to act as a bridge covering operating expenses through the early months of 2008, when tourism is light.

In the spring and summer, said project manager Frank Alexander, tourism surges and museum income will exceed expenses. Extra revenues will be banked, he said, to offset the closing months of 2008, when the number of visitors will shrink.

The goal, Alexander said, is to reach the end of 2008 with that $35,000 in the bank, able to serve as a bridge during the early months of 2009.

To achieve financial objectives, the museum must pull in at least 54,000 visitors in 2008, not counting people attending special evening events.

Since the museum at East Avenue G and Airport Road only opened in May 2007, Alexander did not have a full year's worth of experience when he drew a bell curve to project how those 54,000 visitors might be spread throughout 2008.

"Blind guess," he said.

For the five weeks in January, the projection was 496 visitors each week. For the four weeks of February, the estimate inched up to 517 weekly visitors.

As of mid-February, the lowest weekly count was 521 people and the highest, 793 visitors. The first six weeks of 2008 were projected to bring 3,514 people to the museum. The actual number was 4,377 people.

"We're really very pleased with the way things are going right now," said marketing director Lynnette Hilty.

Planned events apart from the regular tours include a visit by those who will be in Hutchinson in early March for the County Weed Directors Association of Kansas conference and a wine-tasting social being hosted by the University of Kansas Alumni Association for chapter members.

The record low for the museum's visitation was set during the week of the December ice storm, when only 200 people toured the facility.

Despite bad weather continuing in January, visitation rebounded from pre-Christmas week levels, partly aided by school groups.

Alexander considers the 54,000-visitor estimate conservative. The bell curve assumed - hopefully - that another crippling ice storm would not hit in December 2008. On the other end, it did not count on the week duplicating the week in July 2007, when a record 2,132 visitors rode the elevator down.

Many visitors are driving from Wichita, and that included Blackmore. She was part of a five-member, three-generation entourage using the Hyatt Regency Wichita as a base while seeing sites in Kansas.

Souvenirs collected or slated to be purchased include hoodies and T-shirts and electronics.

And from Hutchinson, the travelers from England agreed, there would be chunks of salt.

Comments

Crossfire 6 years, 1 month ago

The Big Salt Lick in The Big Salt Hole. Don't forget the other Great Wonders of Kansas... The Big Well... The Big Bottoms (in Cheyenne) The Big Ball of Twine. and the Big OL' Fish... http://www.fishing-worldrecords.com/relaunch/icons2/images/blue%20catfish%20record.jpg

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Ragingbear 6 years, 1 month ago

In other news, there is an entire museum dedicated to salt.

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