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Discovery Center attendance jumps 33.5 percent

By Bryan Richardson

The Flint Hills Discovery Center had a 33.5-percent attendance increase and 8.8-percent revenue increase in 2016.

Discovery Center director Susan Adams shared a year-end report Tuesday to the Manhattan City Commission.

The center had 80,080 guests in 2016, an increase of 20,106 from 59,974 guests in 2015.

Adams said the attendance numbers include regular admissions, rented space, education programs, special events and partnership events such as the downtown carriage rides.

The biggest jump in special events came from the Flint Hills Festival, which had 2,500 guests in 2016. The same event only had 400 guests in 2015.

According to estimates, the center had $815,199 in revenue in 2016, an increase of $65,927 from $749,272 in 2015.

Overall, the Discovery Center still spent more than it made, but 2016 represented its best full-year financial performance yet. The center’s budgets have been done with the expectation of revenues not meeting expenses.

The center had $845,569 in expenses and $815,199 in revenue in 2016, meaning it had 3.7 percent more in expenses.

This is better than the previous years’ performances: 13.3 percent in 2013, 20 percent in 2014 and 17.7 percent in 2015.

The center had its first full year of operation in 2013 after opening in April 2012.

Commissioner Mike Dodson said everyone’s desire is for the center to have revenue exceed expenses without the use of transient guest tax revenue. The center draws some revenue from a portion of the bed tax at hotels. It received $258,333 in 2016, a decrease of $24,163 from 2015. Adams also discussed the upcoming traveling exhibits at the Discovery Center. “We have really moved ahead this past year,” she said. “We’re planning out to 2020.”

The center, which will have five temporary exhibits for this year, has secured three exhibits for 2018, two exhibits for 2019 and one exhibit for 2020.

Adams said the center’s foundation has worked with Swanson House Consulting on a potential $3 million comprehensive campaign to benefit improvements at the Discovery Center.

These would include completing the second- floor mezzanine, installing terrace interpretative panels, refreshing first-floor exhibitions and funding the education endowment.

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