Ag Hall’s future remains uncertain
Editor’s note: This concludes a two-part series on the National Agricultural Center and Hall of Fame.
As the National Agricultural Center and Hall of Fame’s future still remains uncertain, members of the hall’s board of governors are preparing to do whatever it takes to turn the center into a viable institution that can at last hold its own financially.
They say they are aware of what they are up against, but saving the hall is the only possible outcome.
“There’s no ifs about it,” said member Amy O’Rourke, who is heading the resources and revenue committee that will find ways to generate donations and other revenue for the Ag Hall. “It’s going to be an uphill battle and we know that this is not something that’s going to happen over night. It’s not something that’s going to happen before we open the doors in the spring.”
Before the center closed for the winter season and its paid staff was released in a cost-cutting measure, the board had an offer of help from the Unified Government of Wyandotte County. The Unified Government’s proposal called for it to take over the Hall of Fame’s buildings and 44 acres of land the buildings sit on for a minimum of three years.
The board declined the Unified Government’s offer. Members say they didn’t like the idea of the center being taken over by another governing body, as well as the uncertainty of what might happen to the place after the three-year term.
“Their offer was not something we wanted to accept at this time,” said board member Cathi Hahner. “But they still want to support the Ag Hall of Fame and our efforts to rebuild the organization.”
Board chairman Frank VanFleet said the Unified Government had only offered the proposal in the first place because it had seen the trouble the hall was facing.
“The only reasoning for putting a proposal out was that they didn’t want to see the thing close,” said VanFleet, who mentioned Unified Government administrator Dennis Hays specifically as someone who had offered continued support to the Ag Hall, despite the board’s rejection of the proposal.
Hays was unavailable for comment on this story.
The board had also been in talks since October with the Wyandotte County Fair Association about a possible proposal, of which the outcome would offer available land for the currently homeless Wyandotte County Fair and some financial support for the Ag Hall.
The association has missed two deadlines, the latest Dec. 16, to submit its proposal. Charlotte Andervich, who chairs the fair association, said the group still was interested in submitting at a possible later date, but members say they have decided to run the center on their own. VanFleet said a discussion he had with the fair association in early December had made it clear to him that working with the organization wasn’t the direction the board wanted to go in.
“They were wanting to take control of (the Ag Hall) and run it themselves, but that’s not what the board of governors wanted to do,” VanFleet said. “(The fair association) didn’t want to put a lot of money in (the Ag Hall) and not have control of it.”
Andervich said that any proposal submitted by the fair association would have to include the provision that the fair association would take over operations.
“The one thing that’s kind of happened all along is that the fair board cannot accept another board over us,” Andervich said, noting that the fair association would still be interested in working with the Ag Hall. “We are interested and we especially like the location.”
Andervich said the fair association had requested another month-long extension, but as of Tuesday, Dec. 29, neither VanFleet nor Hahner had heard anything of a request for an extension.
Going it alone
Members of the board say they are confident they can run the facility without creating a partnership with the Unified Government or the Wyandotte County Fair Association, and they intend to prove it over the next year and even further into the future.
“We’re going to go ahead and run it ourself,” VanFleet said of the board’s plans. “Basically what we’re going to do is start raising money, and getting volunteers together. We’re going to keep our payroll down until we get funds available to have a full staff.”
Hahner, who is heading the operations committee for the center, said the board’s plans include both the short-term — getting the facility reopened and running in March 2010 — as well as plans for the center’s long-term future.
Short-term plans include creating committees among the governing members and volunteers to target specific issues. Already members have created a resources and revenue committee and an operations committee, which is in charge of taking care of daily operations until staff can be hired.
Additionally, Hahner said, the board was recruiting new governing board members, which is a major source of revenue for the facility. To become a member, each person must pay $200 at the time they sign up. Hahner said the board had already been able to recruit 15 new members since November, raising a total of $3,000.
Donations of up to $100 have already been coming in, Hahner said, and the board is already lining up some facility rentals and programs such as Tractor Daze, an annual event at the center.
“We can bring enough between the earned income that we have and the donations that are coming through,” Hahner said of the coming year. “We’ll be fine through the spring and probably through the summer with the events … as long as those donations keep coming at the pace they do.”
On the long-term, Hahner wouldn’t offer many specifics since the board has yet to make any final decisions. But she said the focus would be on updating exhibits and building on corporate donations the center has received in the past. The board’s strategic planning process, which in the past has lasted only a day, Hahner said, would be ongoing throughout the year – and could last up to 18 months. It will focus on getting more involvement from the community and educators in the area.
“We have to get the community people involved, we have to know what the educators are looking for … then as a board we’ll put that together,” Hahner said. “It’s going to be a long strategic planning process, but I feel confident that this time we’ll get it right.”