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The Economist: Museums “unsafe bets for urban renewal”

A special edition of The Economist magazine (“The World in 2009”) includes this article, which was alluded to in a previous comment. The article is titled, “The Museum-building binge.” Here’s something to consider when deciding how much money and land we want to dedicate to a new downtown museum complex:

Museums often enjoy cheeringly high visitor numbers in the first year or two, but then attendance tends to taper off.

“Sustainability is the new buzzword,” explains Javier Pes, editor of Museum Practice, a journal published by the Museums Association. Wealthy private donors have been happy enough to contribute large sums in exchange for a glamorous new wing named after them. But donations tend to ebb after the museum reopens, and directors need to find other ways to pull in tourists after the initial excitement wears off, such as pricey blockbuster shows. Operating costs go up.

In Denver, for example, where Daniel Libeskind designed a new $110m building for the art museum, an initial boom of visitors in 2006 has waned, and budget constraints have forced the museum to cut staff. The remarkable new structure—an explosion of angles and intersecting shapes—is the centrepiece of Denver’s nascent culture district. Yet some visitors complain of feeling disoriented inside. […]

Such investments are clearly unsafe bets for urban renewal.

What is the Museum Collaboration Group’s plan to sustain their optimistic attendance numbers over the next 20 years (i.e., the duration of the bonds used for construction) and beyond?

28 comments to The Economist: Museums “unsafe bets for urban renewal”



    You’re ” preaching to the choir ” ! Regardless of local opposition, the business and political elite are determined to get Peoria’s riverfront museum built. The public’s ONLY chance of defeating it AND them will be through the April tax referendum. I may have missed it, but what I haven’t heard is whether or not it’s binding or non-binding…. to which there’s a huge difference. Because if it’s the latter, the county board can arbitrarily vote in support of the museum despite a public rejection. Thus, the public’s vote would be in vain.

  • Martin Palmer

    Sustainability, this is how, “Its Better Here” Or trust us, or Oops we were wrong and we need to keep the tax forever.

  • kcdad

    Propose to raise taxes and then then lower the amount of the tax increase so they can say that the museum is actually lowering taxes.

  • SD

    At the risk of repeating myself over and over again, I’ve been arguing about this “self-sustainability” since the beginning of this whole museum debacle. No museum in the country is self-sustaining. All of them either cut back, or get additional funding from various sources sooner or later. In the meantime the tax used to build them goes on year after year after year. But once these so-called “leaders” get an idea in their heads they forge forward even if they have to go through a wall of fire to ram it down our throats. They simply can’t see the forest for the trees. We CANNOT AFFORD THIS MUSEUM, PERIOD.

  • nontimendum

    “Peoria County Board Special Meeting The Peoria County Board will conduct a special meeting on Tuesday, January 27, 2009 at 6:00 P.M. The meeting will be held in the Peoria County Courthouse, 324 Main Street, Room 403, Peoria, Illinois. The following item is scheduled to be on the agenda: Riverfront Museum Sales Tax Referendum. R. Steve Sonnemaker Peoria County Clerk
    Legal Notices – Peoria Journal Star – 01/17/2009”

    Attending may rival in efficacy idle bitching here.

  • New Voice

    Idle bitching?

  • nontimendum

    Should I have included dictionary entries?

  • New Voice

    We all know where CAT stands on this issue. $20.00 says you will never hear anyone from CAT openly speak out against the museum plan.

    Of course now that John Erwin has somehow determined that ALL OF ICC is for this project, you will never hear anyone there speakout openly about this project [at least not anyone who wants to keep their job].

    Waiting for OSF, Methodist, and/or Komatsu to get in on the “Build the Block” movement.

    Attending these meetings without fear of retribution would be a wonderful thing, however………………….., aint gonna happen.

  • New Voice

    Face it people.
    If Peoria can’t keep a Krispy Kreme going, how are we going to maintain a museum?

  • vonster

    Is this another white elephant that’ll be forced on us like the Wreck Plex and Cat Stadium? The ads seem to say so.

  • BeanCounter

    Oh Methodist is already on board.

  • Tulip

    Why not upgrade the current museum? “Building the Block” is just too expensive and too risky right now. Investing in infrastructure for job creation worked in the 1930s and it can work now. Let’s just make sure that we are focusing on things that a community really needs. Save the river. Save the natural environment. Establish shelters and places where anyone can get a good meal. Build sustainable schools buildings that create a lively learning community. When possible, employ artists to enrich our community. Have you seen the WPA statues “peace” and “harvest” outside the Becker Building downtown? Amazing works of art. I would rather put individual artists to work creating such brilliant works than create a Disney museum.

  • Karrie E. Alms

    BINDING Referendum. Voting NO means Peoria County residents DO NOT authorize a 1/4% sales tax for public facilities, in this case the museum which is being promoted. Nevertheless, there are many policy decisions which Peoria County Board Members have not addressed as of 1/15/09. These decisions have the potential to be policy setting for future projects. AND …… if the documents are not able to be accomplished to build the museum, because the wording of the referendum is for PUBLIC FACILITIES not specifically a museum —- Peoria County Taxpayers have just signed a blank check for public facilities purposes. This is one of the few times voters have a binding referendum opportunity. I would encourage a NO vote and you tell a friend to vote NO and so on and so on.
    Definition of public facilities purposes ….

    For the purposes of this Section, “public facilities purposes” includes, but is not limited to, the acquisition, development, construction, reconstruction, rehabilitation, improvement, financing, architectural planning, and installation of capital
    facilities consisting of buildings, structures, and durable equipment and for the acquisition and improvement of real property and interest in real property required, or expected to be required, in connection with the public facilities, for use by the county for the furnishing of governmental services to its citizens, including but not limited to museums and nursing homes.

    No decision has been made about how many MILLIONS will be bonded for the museum if this passes. The museum is currently asking for $34.7M which costs $39.4M upfront to bond for with a payback over twenty years of $61.88M for the museum. Did I already mention it was a blank check?

    NV: “Attending these meetings without fear of retribution would be a wonderful thing, however………………….., aint gonna happen.”

    I have been attending meetings for years. I am the life of the party! 🙂 Fear of and actual retribution are realities and I have experienced both. Nevertheless, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” Edmund Burke. I credit my parents with teaching me to stand up for what is correct even if I am the only person there. Perhaps if more of us were vocal, then we would have better development in Peoria.

    This project is not a wise use of our limited tax dollars. Stay tuned.

  • New Voice

    True Karrie, however we must not allow the innocent to get caught in the crossfire! I find my ways of being heard…fear not! The time may yet come for all the world to know who New Voice really is!!!


    Still waiting Ileridiot to respond on other post. Yes, childish, but I could not resist.

  • C.J. Readers;

    Give me some credit. I’ve been presenting facts on musuems on my blog site for a couple of years. I doubt if more than one County Board Member reads any blogs. Nor do they read up on museum facts.

    I do not fear retribution from anyone and am not afraid to speak the truth.

    The vote on Jan.27 for the County of Peoria to enter into the museum business will not be unanimous.

    The museum committee is gearing up to spend low 6 figure amounts to sell this “opportunity” and to the public and I believe the “public” will vote yes without really knowing exactly what they voted on.

  • New Voice


    There are many times when I have disagreed with you in the past.
    This is not one of those times.
    I am trying to remain optimistic and give the people of Peoria a little credit……… well as yourself of course.

  • Thanks, New Voice. Please read my blog written by Karrie Alms on my blogsite today.

  • diane vespa

    Merle, for the readers who do not know the URL of your site, link please!

  • Karrie E. Alms

    Diane: FYI — There is a link on the left, under Peoria Blogs for Merle Widmer’s Peoria Watch or try the following link —

  • Ileriet

    Mr. Widmer has been making a point that it was recently announced that the IMAX theater attached to the “Science Station” in Cedar Rapids, Iowa will be closed as of today. For any Chronicle readers interested in “the rest of the story” I’d refer them to the following:

    I’m sure readers will also find the comments to this article very interesting, seems like there are alot of similiarities between Cedar Rapids and Peoria. Fortunately, Peoria didn’t experience the devistating flooding they did in Cedar Rapids recently.

    Just a couple of comments, it states that the Science Station IMAX was a “dome theater”. Why they built a dome theater for an IMAX would be an interesting question, but my experience has been that projecting an IMAX film on a rounded dome surface really distorts the visual clarity of the images and distracts from the IMAX experience.

    They also indicate that IMAX is making the transition to digital technology and for them to convert to digital 3D technology would force them to rebuild the theater. Fortunately the planning for Peoria’s IAMX will be able to incorporate the digital 3D technolgoy into the theater plans from the very beginning.

    This is also a good example of what can happen if the Museum doesn’t do a good job of advertising and marketing. There are also several comments regarding the lack of convenient parking as well as a lack of corporate support from the Cedar Rapids business community, all issues that also apply to the planned development in Peoria.

    All in all, an interesting situation in a community much like ours.

  • Karrie E. Alms


    The Cedar Rapids Imax announcement at this link:

    is dated 2 January 2008 for a 20 Jan 2008 closing which is more than a year ago.
    This IMAX closing in 2008 is about five (5) months prior to the is prior to the flooding in Cedar Rapids around June 11 or 12, 2008 as documented by this video on youtube.

    The flooding had nothing to do with the IMAX closing in Cedar Rapids.
    From the first link, about the annoucement, please note the following paragraph:

    “The board and staff made every effort to make the theatre work but ultimately we had to make this very difficult decision.” said Dan Thies, President of the Science Station board. “The theatre has not been profitable in recent years and we can no longer afford to subsidize it at the expense of our core mission.”

    The theatre has not been profitable in recent years — in the plural …. “no longer afford to subsidize it at the expense of our core mission. ”

    This is also a good example of what can happen if the Museum doesn’t do a good job of advertising and marketing.

    Yes, that is the entire point —- accurate information needs to given to the voters to make an informed decision to cast their ballot regardless of who is distributing the information.

  • Caterpillar is on board with their own museum, and good for them for that. I did not know that they had pledged several million for the public museum, is that true? If it is, how do they think their stockholders will feel about that in light of the fact their stock has gone from 80 to 40 in a year? Is my investment and retirement gong down the drain because of a damn museum which anyone in their right mind can see will be a white elephant? Come on Jim Owens, earn your 14 millioin!!

  • Karrie E. Alms


    From this link —…..ommentform

    Cedar Rapids’ annoucement to close their IMAX theatre is dated January 2, 2008 for a January 20, 2008 closing. That is one (1) year ago. That would about five (5) months prior to the flooding of June 2008. The massive flooding had nothing to do with the non-success of this IMAX theatre.

    From the same link — “The theatre has not been profitable in recent years and we can no longer afford to subsidize it at the expense of our core mission.”

    Years — plural — no longer afford to subsize ……

    Flooding in Cedar Rapids occurred AFTER the IMAX had closed for not being profitable in recent years.


    I think that Merle is asking valuable questions:

    Where would subsidizing funds come from if the Peoria IMAX were not successful?

    Would there be any technology changes during the next twenty (20) years for the IMAX and if yes, where would the renovating funds come from?

    Just think about the amazing Red Digital Camera (!!!!

    It is important that there is accurate and complete information from both sides of the museum project and should someone make a misstep — that it should be corrected.

    The museum group is asking for at least $34.7M in net bond proceeds which will cost the taxpayer $61.88M over twenty years — even sales tax is taxpayer money.

    The taxpayers have every right to ask any question about this project.

    The taxpayers have every right to expect every question to be answered accurately and completely.

    For $61.88M, we should get to kick the tires and take the ‘car’ for a drive.

  • New Voice

    I guess it is not all that difficult to see why this project has not received the overwhelming public support the Museum Group had hoped for.
    Corporate sponsorship is one thing, but with out the support of the public [taxpayers], this project will not take off.

    I wonder how many of the corporate donors – CAT, Country Insurance, etc. are in this for the LONG HAUL. I doubt that the museum will be able to count on funds coming from any of these entities in the future……………………., maybe the govt.?

    Where, pray tell, will all of the maintenance money come from?

    Any ideas why the lack of public support?

  • Closed a year ago today. I only wrote about it because the Museum Committre touted Cedar Rapids IMAX as a comparison of Benchmark Museums.

  • New Voice

    I do recall a number of Lakeview board members, experts one-and-all, who visited a number of museums in cities similar – demographically speaking – to Peoria.

    WOW! Who paid for that?

  • New Voice


    PLEASE! Stop making so much sense.

  • Karrie E. Alms

    NV: Just the ‘Vulcan’ in me! 🙂