Bleeding money for years, Agriculture Hall of Fame in Kansas shutters again

05/15/2014 9:51 PM

06/03/2014 10:17 AM

Like a farmer whose crops went bust, the National Agricultural Center and Hall of Fame now looks toward a future harvest — this one for the money needed to reopen.

Officials at the Wyandotte County museum said Thursday they hope to scratch together the funding necessary to keep pace with upkeep and perhaps upgrade enough to draw more visitors.

The center, meanwhile, is shuttered for the second time in five years while its leaders search for solutions that could put its financial future on firmer footing.

It aims to reopen next year.

“We’re very optimistic that we will be open,” said Jody Albers, president of the center’s board of directors. “Our board is working very diligently right now. It is in strategic planning mode.”

The center sprawls over a prime location just west of Kansas Speedway. It includes museum displays such as farm machinery from the 1800s and a farm town re-creation.

Attracting 20,000 visitors a year, the center also has a hall of fame showcasing the nation’s agricultural leaders going back to George Washington. The International Lineman’s Rodeo is held there yearly.

The center will continue with its annual events through the rest of the year, including the Lineman’s Rodeo.

In 1960, Congress issued a federal charter creating the national museum of agriculture. Although several states have state agriculture halls of fame, only Kansas has the national hall. It does not receive any government funding.

Already carrying a heavy debt load, the center bled money for at least the last four years, federal tax records show.

The center lost $32,000 in 2012, according to the latest tax records available. It was a marked improvement from 2009, when it listed losses of $334,000.

Compounding the losses is a $350,000 loan the center took out to stay afloat in 2010 shortly after a staff shake-up that included laying off the executive director and the rest of the paid staff.

At the time, the center was in a financial crisis after it had eaten up between $600,000 and $700,000 gained from a 2004 land sale.

The center finances rebounded in recent years. It took in $165,000 in grants and contributions in 2012 compared to $8,769 in 2010. Total revenues nearly tripled in 2012 from 2010.

Yet hard times are back. The center is struggling to pay for overseeing five buildings on about 165 acres in Bonner Springs. It has no executive director and is run by two-part time employees.

The loan the center took out in 2010 now exceeds its operating budget of about $300,000. The cost of overseeing the center compromises the staff’s ability to make its exhibits more modern and interactive.

“Our day-to-day expenses are very high,” Albers said. “The walk-in traffic can’t support the day-to-day expenses.”

The museum also was hit by the death of a donor who contributed between $25,000 and $40,000 a year to help with operations.

“We were definitely getting better,” Albers said. “We were increasing everything we needed to increase. It’s just not enough.”

To reach Brad Cooper, call 816-234-7724 or send email to bcooper@kcstar.com.

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