Sunday, July 7, 2013

Why Shoot Ourselves in the Foot?

As part of the celebration of the centennial of the Lincoln Highway, I recently spent an entire day at the Great Platte River Road Archway Monument in Kearney. I walked the grounds, fed the fish, perused the gift shop, enjoyed Dickey's BBQ and went through the main attraction - the Archway Museum itself.

All the while I was enjoying this wonderful attraction, I was thinking what a disservice we Nebraskans do to ourselves when we don't support the Archway. It's not to say that I don't understand that there were problems with the initial expectations of visitation to the Archway, but this attraction does deserve our support, and I firmly believe that some of its problems are due to a lack of support among fellow Nebraskans, and our badmouthing it to potential visitors.

In North Platte recently, I got a call from the Buffalo Bill Ranch, who said that a visitor had told her he almost hadn't come because the desk clerk at his hotel told him the attraction "wasn't worth visiting." Thank goodness he didn't take the desk clerks advice. How many Nebraskans are guilty of saying the same thing to potential visitors to the Archway?

Having spent an entire day there, I can assure you, it IS worth a visit. We aren't mindful enough of the important part played by the Platte River valley in the settlement of the west, and in the economy today, and the Archway tells the story - and in a quality entertaining way. It also helps give us insight into the lives of early pioneers - there's a Pawnee earth lodge, an authentic Pawnee garden, a sod house and a pow wow dancing grounds. There's even a maze for the kids to burn off some extra energy.

We've known for some time now that the Archway has declared bankruptcy, and an article today in the World Herald tells of the hard road ahead the attraction faces in the process. It's about $20 million in debt, which the board of directors seeks to pay off with $100,000. Further, the board is asking for $1.2 million in support from the city of Kearney and Buffalo County over three years to offset operating costs. While unfortunately, the bondholders are left holding the bag, the taxpayers are getting off relatively easily.

One of the details that isn't included in the article is how much these visitors (a record small number in 2012 of 50,000), spend in Kearney and Nebraska as a whole when they stop to visit the Archway. A more broad definition of the success of the Archway isn't just on the admission to the attraction itself, but in the activity it spurs throughout the economy.

In 2012, direct travel spending in Nebraska was $3.1 billion. In Nebraska, it is estimated that every dollar spent on travel is respent in the community 1.7 times, for a total economic impact of $2.70, ballooning that $3.1 billion up to nearly $8.4 billion. Granted, the Archway is just a tiny piece of this puzzle, but it is one piece! A failed Archway will have a ripple effect throughout the entire Nebraska economy.

Now a new exit off of Interstate 80 will be opening soon (possibly by the end of August this year). This surely will have a positive effect for visitation to the Archway. I propose that we Nebraskans get behind the Archway - visit it ourselves, encourage our relatives, friends and neighbors to visit it, and most especially, recommend it to visitors. We are only hurting ourselves by complaining about it and running it down. Let's see what happens in the coming years with the new easy access and the support of all Nebraskans.

The same holds true for any attraction across Nebraska. Let's make it our goal to drive that $3.1 billion even higher for 2013 and beyond.

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