Reading over the Peoria Riverfront Museum information on the County’s website, I found page 211 especially fascinating. There, in black and white, is a “Museum Benchmark Matrix” comparing various museums around the country, their square footage, metropolitan statistical area (MSA) population, annual attendance figures, and other information.
Here is a simplified chart of all the museums that listed their annual attendance figures (I’ve added Peoria’s proposed museum to the end of the list):
|Museum||Location||MSA Pop.||Gross SF||Annual Attendance|
|Science Station||Cedar Rapids, IA||252,784||20,000||27,000|
|Science Spectrum||Lubbock, TX||267,211||85,000||185,000|
|Putnam Museum||Davenport, IA||376,160||115,000||190,000|
|Sci-Port Discovery Center||Shreveport, LA||387,583||92,000||200,000|
|Gulf Coast Exploreum||Mobile, AL||404,406||55,000||220,000|
|Exploration Place||Wichita, KS||596,452||100,000||180,000|
|Louisville Science Center||Louisville, KY||1,233,735||129,000||315,000|
|Kalamazoo Valley Museum||Kalamazoo, MI||323,264||60,000||125,000|
|Peoria Riverfront Museum||Peoria, IL||371,206||81,000||240,000 (est.)|
Notice anything unusual or surprising? That’s right. The projected attendance for Peoria’s museum block is more than every other museum in the matrix, except for Louisville’s, where the MSA is over 1.2 million people.
In case you’re wondering where I got the 240,000 figure for attendance, here’s the scoop: the museum folks are estimating 360,000 visitors per year for the whole block. But they split that up this way: 1/3 of those people will attend Caterpillar Experience only, 1/3 will attend the Peoria Riverfront Museum only, and 1/3 will attend both. That means that only 2/3 of the 360,000 estimated visitors to “the block” will go to the Peoria Riverfront Museum (360,000 x 2/3 = 240,000).
It’s tricky trying to figure out their numbers, as you can see, because they often treat the whole block as a single project in their campaign literature. But it’s really two projects; and if you want to compare apples with apples regarding the museum, you must first split the projects apart.
So let’s see if Peoria’s numbers hold up to some mathematical scrutiny. Let’s look at market penetration. We’ll take the average attendance and divide it by the MSA population for each of the museums listed in the matrix:
|Sci-Port Discovery Center||51.6%|
|Gulf Coast Exploreum||54.4%|
|Louisville Science Center||25.5%|
|Kalamazoo Valley Museum||38.7%|
|Peoria Riverfront Museum||64.7%|
As you can see, the projections for Peoria’s museum are well above the average of other museums in the matrix. If Peoria were to get the 41.35% average penetration, it would come out to about 153,494 visitors per year.
Now, I’m going to guess that the argument will be that these are old numbers — possibly as old as 2004 — and that the museum’s projected attendance figures are for 2011, which is the date they hope to open the museum. So, let’s assume that 153,494 is a 2004 figure, and that attendance would increase at a rate of 3% per year. Over seven years (2004-2011), that would bump up the attendance to 188,788 visitors — still far below the 240,000 figure being projected. To get to 240,000, you’d have to assume that attendance would grow by almost 7% each year. It’s also worth noting that museum officials have been projecting “200,000 to 250,000 visitors a year” since 2003 (“Report touts museum impact,” Peoria Journal Star, 4/8/2003).
Granted, my methods are not nearly as scientific as the “common sense” methods employed by others, but I think a case could be made that the museum’s attendance estimates are wildly optimistic.