Friday, August 29, 2008

News---GNMP and Foundation Seek Public Opinions On Fee Structure Options

Fee For Gettysburg Visitor Center Museum?, Erin James, Evening Sun, August 29, 2008.

In what would be a drastic deviation from original plans, the officials who run the Gettysburg National Military Park Museum and Visitor Center are considering a proposal to charge visitors a single admission fee of $7.50. What officials say is a significant difference between anticipated and actual revenue spurred the proposal. Park officials had for years insisted upon opening an exhibit gallery at the museum at no cost to visitors. In its own General Management Plan, the park specifically states that, "The museum, like the visitor center, would be free to all visitors ...."

And since the center's opening in April, visitors have been able to walk through the museum's exhibit gallery free of charge. But on Thursday, the park's superintendent said the 22-minute film that costs $8 for an adult ticket isn't pulling its weight in revenue. Officials said they expect the disappointing trend to continue when the Cyclorama opens at the end of September. Ticket sales for "A New Birth of Freedom" have fallen far short of projections, and a change of course is needed to keep the facility financially afloat. With the current fee structure, officials said they expect to lose $1.78 million annually. During the first four months of operation, the percentage of visitors choosing to view the film has ranged from 18 to 24 percent. Financial projections had been based on an anticipated rate of 33 percent.

"If we ran a full fiscal year with the returns we're getting now, we'd be in big trouble," said Park Superintendent John Latschar. According to the proposal, visitors would be charged a single fee to see museum galleries, the film and the Cyclorama - a newly restored 125-year-old painting that depicts the Battle of Gettysburg. The Cyclorama exhibit is scheduled to open Sept. 26, at which time ticket prices are supposed to increase to $12 for visitors who want to view both the film and the painting.

A Visitor to the Gettysburg National Military Park Visitors Center enters the exibit gallery on the opening day. (Evening Sun File Photo by James Robinson)
Purchase reprints of Evening Sun Photos at EveningSunPhotos.Com. would be done away with if the proposal goes through. Officials say the shift to a single-admission fee would accomplish three objectives -increase the percentage of visitors willing to pay a fee and thus improve the foundation's ability to meet its financial goals, create a higher value for park visitors by making the theater and Cyclorama experience more affordable, and allow visitors multiple opportunities to see all three venues. The admission fee would cover the cost of operating and maintaining the facility, officials said.

On Thursday, the park and its nonprofit partner The Gettysburg Foundation released the six-page proposal. A 30-day comment period for the park to collect feedback from the public begins today, and a public meeting is scheduled for Thursday, Sept. 18. Latschar said the center's current fee structure is based on economic feasibility studies conducted by outside consultants, who had recommended the foundation charge $15 for a combined ticket to the film and Cyclorama. "We thought that was too high," Latschar said. Officials settled on $12 instead. But even that decrease hasn't enticed enough visitors. "We are just not meeting the goals in there that all the consultants told us we should target," he said. That's not because people aren't visiting the museum, however.

In fact, officials said visitor rates are higher than projected. Almost one million people have walked through the visitor center doors so far this year, they said. The problem is the film's ticket price, which most people scoff at, Latschar said. Typical visitor comments are questions like, "Eight dollars for a 22-minute film?" he said. Gettysburg Foundation President Robert Wilburn said he expects the trend to continue when the Cyclorama opens in September. The idea behind the proposal is to correct the problems before the facility loses more money, he said. "We can see now what the patterns are," Wilburn said. The Gettysburg Foundation is the park's private partner charged with operating and maintaining the new visitor center.

To operate the facility, the foundation depends upon three primary sources of revenue - museum store commissions, food-service commissions and ticket sales for the film and Cyclorama. The foundation's 2008 operating budget included revenue projections from the three sources. Officials expected to make $1.92 million through the museum store, $422,260 through the Refreshment Saloon and $4.8 million through the film and Cyclorama. To date, the store is performing slightly ahead of projections, while the saloon is operating slightly below, officials said.

Latschar said the park and foundation experimented with "all kinds of alternatives" before developing the single-admission fee proposal. One example was a one-week trial of requiring visitors to obtain a free "ticket" before entering the museum exhibits. That gave workers an opportunity to pitch the film to visitors, but it was "almost to the point of harassing visitors," Latschar said. Package deals were another experiment, he said. "Nothing was working," Latschar said. The superintendent said it's possible the public-comment period could produce other ideas that influence the final decision.

"Somebody out there might think of something we hadn't thought of," Latschar said. A decision would come no earlier than Sept. 30. Latschar said the Park Service holds the final decision-making power. If the proposal is accepted, visitors would not be charged to enter other parts of the visitor center. The Refreshment Saloon, souvenir shop, lobbies, resource room and classrooms would still be available free of charge. There is no charge to enter the battlefield - something increasingly unusual at national parks, Latschar said.

"More parks charge fees than don't," he said. Season passes for repeat visitors have also been added to the proposal. Individuals could pay $32, and families would be charged $63. Latschar said it's difficult to know for sure, but he expects the struggling economy is affecting the way Gettysburg visitors are spending their money. "We think the economy definitely has some impact," he said.

Contact Erin James at

Proposed Fees:

Officials are proposing a single-admission fee that would cover the cost of seeing museum exhibits, a 22-minute film and the newly restored Cyclorama painting at the Gettysburg National Military Park Museum and Visitor Center. The breakdown is as follows:

Adult (ages 13+): $7.50
Adult group (16+ visitors): $6.50 each
Youth (ages 6-12): $5.50
Youth group (16+ visitors): $5

Interested members of the public may comment in writing to Park Superintendent John Latschar, Gettysburg National Military Park, 1195 Baltimore Pike, Suite 100, Gettysburg, PA, 17325. Or they may e-mail comments to All comments must be received by Sept. 29.

WHAT: Public meeting to discuss the proposed fee structure for entry to the Gettysburg National Military Park Museum and Visitor Center
WHERE: At the museum, 1195 Baltimore Pike, Gettysburg
WHEN: Thursday, Sept. 18, at 7 p.m.

Text Source:The Evening Sun, August 29, 2008

Photo Source:
Top: A Visitor to the Gettysburg National Military Park Visitors Center enters the exibit gallery on the opening day.
Middle:A Visitor to the Gettysburg National Military Park Visitors Center enters the exibit gallery on the opening day.
Bottom: Visitors to the Gettysburg National Military Park Visitors Center pass through the exibit gallery on the opening day of the center. Evening Sun File Photos by James Robinson. Purchase reprints of Evening Sun Photos at EveningSunPhotos.Com.

CWL: When I first visited the GNMP's Visitor Center I saw the movie, spent two hours and got a behind the scenes tour. One the way out the door, I said to myself "I saw every cent of $103 million." I am not surprised about the additional need for fees.
On my second visit I paid $16 for two movie tickets. Certainly $7.50 at ticket for the movie, the cyclorama, and the interpretative exhibits is reasonable for a two and half hour experience.

1 comment:

unhappy visitor said...

I could agree with the new fees, if I felt that the park service and foundation had attempted other solutions first. Chief among these would be to have the foundation practice some fiscal responsibility. It is obvious that the foundation spends lots of money, much of it unwisely (look at the salaries of their chief managers). Why not reduce the current price of the film (and later the film/cyclorama combination ticket) to see if that has any impact on sales? Cut back on spending? (the foundation is spending $51,000 to "rent" a copy of the Gettysburg Address from the Lincoln Presidential Library in Springfield, Ill. for the Grand Opening. Is that really necessary?). Delay planned projects (such as the demolition of the old Visitor Center)? None of these were attempted. Once they start charging fees, the decision will be irreversible. Even worse, over time the fees will simply increase to the point that vast majority of visitors will not be willing to pay. My prediction is that the foundation will fail and that in 2-3 years the Federal Government will be forced to take over their debt.