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River museum attendance lags

Officials plan to lay off a few full-time employees after previously cutting some part-time jobs

Erik Hogstrom

Dubuque Telegraph Herald

August 24, 2006

[Note: This material is copyright by the Dubuque Telegraph Herald, and is reproduced here as a matter of "fair use" for non-commercial, educational purposes only. Any other use may require the prior approval of the Dubuque Telegraph Herald.]

A 5.3 percent decline in attendance contributed to full-time employee layoffs at the National Mississippi River Museum & Aquarium.

Previous layoffs involved part-time employees.

"These changes will keep us at a level where income matches expenses," said Jerry Enzler, executive director of the museum. "We need to be responsible."

The facility at the Port of Dubuque drew about 230,000 visitors for the year ending June 30 after drawing more than 242,000 the previous year.

Enzler announced plans Wednesday to lay off four full-time employees and accept the resignation of another.

"This summer has been a little more flat," Enzler said. "In past years, we haven't made as many (employment) adjustments."

The museum has shed employees before, as the high attendance days of summer - 60 percent of the facility's visitors come between Memorial Day and Labor Day - give way to autumn and fall.

"It is reflective of the seasonal nature of the museum," Enzler said. "I anticipate we will need to put on more staff (next spring)."

The layoffs involved people in the custodial and husbandry departments, as well as a receptionist. Prior to the layoffs, the facility had a staff of 101, including 41 full-time employees.

High gas prices contributed to lower attendance figures, Enzler said, as did the overall economy of the country.

Prior to its 2003 opening, consultants told museum organizers to expect annual attendance figures in the 230,000 to 309,000 range.

"Last year was at the bottom edge of that parameter," Enzler said.

Dubuque Mayor Roy Buol said declining museum attendance would concern him "if it was localized, but this is across the country."

"High gas prices are keeping people from traveling," Buol said. "That has had a detrimental impact on everything. People only have so much disposable income."

Figures developed by the national Travel Industry Association of America show how tourism costs have increased for potential travelers.

The association's Travel Price Index for the month of July was 1.6 percent higher than previous month and 7.1 percent higher than July 2005.

Gasoline prices increased 29.4 percent from July 2005, lodging prices were up 4.4 percent during that time and the Consumer Price Index rose 0.3 percent from previous month and 4.1 percent from July 2005.

"We do know anecdotally that some museums are experiencing declines in attendance, but this could be attributed to a number of reasons," said Anna McAlpine, a government and media relations associate, with the American Association of Museums.

The attendance decline, Enzler said, will not jeopardize expansion plans to use the former Adams Company building in the Port of Dubuque.

"The Adams Co. renovation is part of the rejuvenation (of the museum)," he said. "But have to make sure we are on solid financial footing."

Buol called the museum "an extreme source of pride."

"We have an excellent facility there and I am sure that when gas prices stabilize, attendance will come back up to what we have come to expect."