Saturday, March 09, 2002

Freedom Center to open in red

Museum expecting losses of $2M-$3M every year

By Dan Klepal,
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Two years before the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center will open its doors, it is already projecting losses of between $2 million and $3 million a year.

        Ed Rigaud, president of the museum, said the center will not ask for additional public money to keep the books balanced. Instead, the museum will rely on private fund-raising.

        Mr. Rigaud said the museum is predicting 450,000 visitors in the first year with admissions falling off to about 250,000 from there. He added it is not uncommon for museums to run deficits with their operating budgets.

        “There will be a fairly significant gap between attendance and what we need to break even,” Mr. Rigaud said. “Our gap is no different than other (museums). But that $2-$3 million does not include our annual fundraising.”

        The museum has raised $75 million toward its $110 million goal to pay for construction. It has asked for $15 million from the state of Ohio, and received $4.3 million. Museum officials hope the rest comes over the next two state budget cycles.

        Ohio Sen. President Dick Finan, R-Evendale, said that money isn't a certainty.

        “A lot depends on the economy,” Mr. Finan said. “We (state government) are $250 million under water right now, so we'll see.”

        The museum also has received $6 million from the city of Cincinnati and $6 million of in-kind services from Hamilton County.

        Mr. Rigaud said riverfront attractions, such as The Banks neighborhood and Newport on the Levee, could add to the museum's attendance numbers.

        “We'll also get grants for some of our education programs, that's why we're not frightened by that gap,” Mr. Rigaud said.

        A regional fundraising campaign is slated to start in June, with a national campaign to follow toward the end of the year.


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