Council renews talk of museum fees

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Tim Nimz, director of the Littleton Museum, admits he failed to carry out his assigned mission.

“At a January study session, council told me to look at the admission policy and come back to you with the one that raises a lot of money but doesn’t annoy anybody,” he told Littleton City Council during the May 14 study session.

Not happening, he said.

“My recommendation is that you do not impose admission fees at all,” he said.

But he set forth six possible fee structures that would raise between $7,470 and $157,250 a year. The low end would charge all adults $1 and let kids in free. The high end would cost adults $5 and seniors $4; Friends of the Library and Museum members and children younger than 6 would be free.

Other scenarios consider only charging those who are not residents of the city, or letting in kids younger than 12 for free.

“The greatest community push-back will occur if Littleton residents are required to pay admission fees,” writes Nimz in his memo to council. “However, as attendance currently is composed, it is impossible to achieve a revenue stream of $100,000 if residents are exempted.”

The museum averages about 132,000 visitors a year, with up to 65 percent of visits by Littleton residents. About 53,000 of the total are children.

Nimz warns that imposing admission fee on the museum — which has always been free — could result in a reduction in attendance of up to half, and cut revenues by as much as $60,000, in the first few years. It would also require hiring two part-time receptionists, a role which has historically been filled by volunteers. Nimz said most of them have expressed discomfort at continuing if they’re required to collect money.

“But if the museum can’t sustain it, they’re all going to lose jobs,” said Councilor Jerry Valdes. “The city is paying for the 35 percent who don’t live here. … At some point, it’s either going to happen or we’re going to have to close the doors.”

Councilor Jim Taylor disagrees.

“We’re not in crisis, and I think this is going to create a lot more aggravation than it would be worth,” he said.

Most everyone agreed that they don’t want to charge admission but should explore alternate funding methods – charging for special events or renting the facility for private parties, for example.

Councilor Bruce Beckman said it must become more cost-effective.

“We’re getting awful close, and we’re kicking the can down the road, but this is part of the legacy we’ve created for Littleton,” he said.

The museum costs the city about $1.3 million of its nearly $49 million general fund.

Councilor Phil Cernanec noted that there’s been concern about whether, because of its Smithsonian affiliation, the museum is allowed to charge admission. Nimz said it can, it just can’t charge extra for Smithsonian exhibits.

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