National WWI Museum finds success

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Despite some funding struggles, the National World War I Museum continues to record higher than expected attendance, attract dignitaries and politicians and garner positive reviews. Now officials from the museum at the Liberty Memorial in Kansas City are working to improve its business plan as they approach several national events in coming years.

A business plan four years ago projected 143,000 paying visitors the first year and 130,000 visitors each year following. But the museum actually drew 196,000 paying visitors in its first 13 months and is set to end this year at about 147,000.

The museum ends 2008 with about $925,000 in ticket sales. High operating costs and a cutback in city funding would have caused the museum to lose money this year. But the Kauffman Legacy Fund gave an unsolicited $1 million grant. Half will be used to begin an endowment to generate interest income for museum operations.

Two additional endowment funds will be made possible by a National Endowment for the Humanities challenge grant that the memorial association is close to meeting. That will create a $1.8 million fund for education programs as well as a $200,000 fund for museum acquisitions. While the endowments may grow over time, officials still depend on an annual $625,000 city subsidy that is scheduled to continue through 2014. The museum association has hired the San Francisco firm of Museum Management Consultants to develop a strategic plan for the museum.

On December 2, 2006, the expanded National World War I Museum opened the window to an extraordinary emotional and intellectual experience. Envisioned by the people of Kansas City, and designed by Ralph Appelbaum Associates, the new state-of-the-art complex uses an incredible collection and highly interactive technology to bring this global history to life, and to foster timely discussions of ethics, values, decision making and conflict resolution. The Museum was selected as "Favorite Museum or Historical Site" in the 2008 KC Visitors’ Choice Awards.

Legislation pending in the U.S. Senate would designate the Liberty Memorial as the nation’s official World War I memorial. It already has been designated the nation’s official museum about the war and is listed as a national historic landmark.

The Liberty Memorial Association is taking steps to boost its stature locally as well by adding to its board of trustees. It recently recruited H&R Block Inc. co-founder Henry Bloch, Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City President Tom Hoenig, construction leader Bill Dunn Sr., Buffalo Funds CEO John Kornitzer and banking executive R. Crosby Kemper Jr.

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