Archive for Thursday, March 2, 2006

Study touts potential of regional prisons museum

March 2, 2006, 12:00 a.m.

Updated: March 2, 2006, 7:12 a.m.

Consultants from a group that has assisted with educational projects at the Liberty Memorial, Kansas City Zoo and the Southern Poverty Law Center say a museum in Lansing that focuses on the area's prisons will be successful.

Chris Becicka and Linda Segebrecht of Overland Park-based Project Explore presented the findings of a feasibility study on the Kansas Regional Prisons Museum last week during a special meeting of the Lansing City Council.

"We look at a project like this and get excited," Segebrecht told council members at the meeting Thursday at City Hall.

The consultants looked at dozens of museums in the area and a handful of prison museums across the country to come up with their assessment, which was funded by the Lansing Historical Society.

They said Lansing's proximity to Kansas City coupled with the fact that no other area in the country can boast of having a federal prison, a military prison, a state prison and a private prison were two factors that could lead to a successful museum.

The consultants said a prison museum in Lansing could coax tourists visiting the nearby Kansas Speedway and neighboring Cabelas, Nebraska Furniture Mart and the planned Schlitterbahn water park in Western Wyandotte County.

"Given the fact it is so easy to get around, the idea here is you don't have far to go to get to the prisons museum," Becicka said.

The consultants projected a $2.2 million cost to build the museum and about $137,000 annually to run the museum. They based their assumptions on what they called a "conservative estimate" of 20,000 visitors annually.

"We think that is easily obtainable," Becicka said, basing her estimate on the number of visitors to other prison museums.

The Project Explore consultants laid out recommendations for the council and its Kansas Regional Prisons Museum Committee to follow as they pursue a museum:

¢ Get cooperation from Leavenworth, the city, chamber, its museums and citizens;

¢ Make the museum as imposing as possible;

¢ Get the money to build the museum up-front;

¢ Prepare to spend $3 million, including programming and staff;

¢ Determine an educational focus, preferably before building;

¢ Find and hire a fundraiser;

¢ Once the museum is built, tell the famous stories, both the old and new;

¢ Develop and follow a comprehensive marketing plan;

¢ Get started now.

They noted the educational component - which was cut from the original study because of funding - still needed to be completed. But, they said, there is a story to be told from the prisons of Leavenworth County.

"For heaven's sakes," Becicka reminded council members, "there's a movie right now up for an Academy Award ("Capote") that is based on your past."

Mayor Kenneth Bernard and Council member Robert Ulin will take the study with them later this month to Washington, D.C., to sound out members of the Kansas congressional delegation for an earmark in the coming federal budget.

Bernard has noted his past opposition to committing any city tax money to building the museum.

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