Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Economics of Community Attractions: What Works

February 27, 2008, 9:15 a.m.

Now that the ill-conceived and executed indoor Iowa rain forest is behind us (hopefully forever), see Nicholas Johnson, "Iowa Child/Earthpark," we have no excuse for not having learned "what works" in the economics of community attractions.

We can learn from what hasn't worked (the rain forest project), and from what has, spelled out in Josh Hinkle's report last evening [Feb. 26] during KCRG-TV9's newscast:

"The National Czech and Slovak Museum and Library is now seeking a new design concept for the expansion project it announced Tuesday. After opening 12 years ago, the museum saw about 16,000 visitors that first year. Now, it sees more than 32,000 annually.

President and CEO Gail Naughton says,"Our attendance has doubled. Our collections have more than doubled, and we're running out of space."

. . .

Officials completed this $2.5-million building with no debt. That’s what Naughton also wants with the expansion. A capital campaign will begin later this year.

. . .

She says breaking ground on the expansion project could still be two years away. There will be a series of conversations with the public, the first of which will take place at the museum at 5:30 on March 18."
Josh Hinkle, "Czech & Slovak Museum Announces Major Expansion," KCRG-TV9, Cedar Rapids, February 26, 2008 (link to video of Hinkle's piece from this Web page; photo, above, from Web page, credit: KCRG-TV9).

I addressed the general principles in Nicholas Johnson, "Time to Learn from What Works," Iowa City Press-Citizen, January 20, 2006, reproduced in Nicholas Johnson, "Earthpark's Week-Long Wake," November 26-December 7, 2007.

I won't repeat here all of that analysis and its applicability to the Czech & Slovak Museum expansion project. If you're interested you can read and think about it yourself. But these headings from the categories of qualities of successful ventures that were mentioned in that op ed column will provide some insight: "Focus," "Community-Based," "Logical Location," "Up-Front Financing," "Business Plans," "Cost Overruns," "Revenue Streams," and "Realistic Evaluation."

Clearly the Museum has a "Focus," it's a "bottom up," locally-supported "Community-Based" institution (complete with "a series of conversations with the public"), in the right city ("Logical Location").

Will the Museum be able to raise the money ("Up-Front Financing") and stay debt-free? Is it realistic to plan on the attendance continuing to increase as it has (from 16,000 a year to 32,000; "Business Plans" and "Realistic Evaluation")?

I'm not suggesting for a moment that the Museum's expansion will be a "slam dunk" with guaranteed economic success. What I do suggest is that it is as much of a positive model as the rain forest was a negative model. Both enable us, and the civic boosters in towns and cities all across Iowa (and the country), to come a little closer to knowing "what works" in the design and execution of local attractions that make as much sense economically as they do educationally or as entertainment.

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Jeffrey Horne said...

Part of this should go towards more focus on quality of life issues beyond just community attractions and into a broader context.

Local projects such as trails, parks, and workout facilities are just as important. Improving our water quality is a major issue. We need more areas like Okoboji and Shimek Forest. The amount of funding even the scaled back rainforest needed would have bought a substantial amount of property to return to the native tallgrass prairie. We have strengths and traditions, we need to focus on those and invest and build upon them.

Anonymous said...

Well, we could just add more casinos!