Friday, April 15, 2011

News---Rate Hike At Gettysburg NMP's Visitor Center

Gettysburg Foundation Defends Rate Hike; Residents Call For Transparency, Say Hike May Deter Tourists, Tim Purdente, The Evening Sun, April 14, 2011.

Gettysburg Foundation officials defended plans Thursday night to increase ticket prices for the Cyclorama painting, film and museum at the Gettysburg National Military Park Visitor Center.

The move would be the second time fees have been raised since an admission price was implemented in 2008 at the museum, which was originally planned as free facility for the display of Civil War relics. Some residents objected to the plan during a public meeting at the park and called for the foundation to release revenue and expense figures. Others said the price increase will drive away visitors, especially children. "Part of the problem here is getting the information," said Gettysburg resident Steve Felix. "Where do we get what your expenses are and what you're making?"

Gettysburg Foundation President Joanne Hanley said plans have been made to make annual financial reports available to the public soon. She said the plans will help residents understand why an increase to ticket prices is necessary. "I've worked at other museums and, quite honestly, been embarrassed," she said. "This (facility) must never grow old, stagnant, deteriorated, and run down because of a lack of appropriations like so many others."

The fee increase, projected to sustain the foundation for the next three years, would begin January 2012. Most ticket prices will increase $2 and an adult ticket, for those 13 and older, would cost $12.50 and a youth ticket would cost $8.50. In June of 2009 ticket prices increased to $10.50 and $6.50 respectively. Admission for children 5 and younger will remain free. Hanley said the facility had been operating at a deficit and that it was "irresponsible" to think prices could remain low while costs everywhere are increasing. "I don't want to fundraise," she said. "I don't want us to get in a situation like so many other museums relying on state and federal funding."

Hanley said the foundation has taken dramatic steps to cut costs. She said two vice president positions have been cut and that her own salary is less than half the nearly $425,000 made by the foundation's first president. Still, she said the facility is faced with increasing expenses due to employee health care and utility costs. Other officials have noted that an increase in the use of credit cards has led to higher processing fees and the growing visitation from tour groups has led to the need for more staff to direct and manage the crowds. She added that the foundation is working carefully not to price itself out of the market. Others, though, contended the increase would hit hardest among children visiting the facility.

Under the new plan, children ages 13 and older would be considered adults and subject to a $12.50 ticket. The current fees allow children ages 6 to 18 admission for a $6.50 youth ticket. Licensed battlefield guide Tom Vossler said such a hike will deter youth visitation. "The children are our primary audience. So we're going to increase their fees and anoint them adults? I don't think that's right," he said.

Vossler said the foundation has also proposed to increase fees for car tours, from $55 to $65, which he believes will discourage tourists. Hanley, though, said they're confident an increase to the price of guided tours won't drive away visitors. She said that's because many visitors believe tours now cost $55 per person, instead of for the entire car. Therefore, she says, the price is often less expensive than visitors believe and a $10 increase won't affect much.
Gettysburg resident Dean Shultz was concerned a $2 increase to the costs for student groups, from $6 to $8, will deter field trips. "How will it affect the schools?" he asked. "I think you're making a big jump here."

He, too, asked for the foundation's financials to be posted so the reason for the hike can be understood. "I don't know what justification you have for the increase," he added. "Hopefully some financial study has been done but I haven't seen it."

The Gettysburg Foundation operates the Visitor Center for the park under an agreement to donate the facility and the land upon which it sits, debt-free, at the end of 2028. The Foundation draws upon ticket revenues, proceeds from the bookstore and food sales to pay down $20 million in municipal bonds issued for construction of the facility.

Hanley praised the relationship and said it would have allowed the Visitor Center to remain open during a shutdown of the government, when every other national park museum would have closed. And not everyone in attendance criticized the proposed ticket increase. Gettysburg resident David Dematteis said the price is fair for the experience offered at the Visitor Center. "Price increases are a fact of life," he said, adding that he would like to see more of the park's artifacts on display.

But Vossler warned officials that the real treasure was the battlefield and not the $103-million facility. "We used to talk about education, preservation, information and protection. Now we talk about the building, the building, the building," he said. "There are hundreds of monuments on this battlefield and this building should not be made one of them."

Text Source: Evening Sun April 14, 2011

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