Back when the Flint Hills Discovery Center was an “issue” instead of a functioning museum and learning center, critics — there were plenty of them — likened it to a boondoggle and said it would never pay its own way.
Well, in the narrowest sense, the critics were right, or have been so far. As noted in a story Sunday on the city’s commemoration of the Discovery Center’s fifth anniversary, the facility continues to receive funding from the city; support runs 35 to 40 percent of the center’s revenue and amounts to several hundred thousand dollars a year.
And although that might give the center’s remaining critics some satisfaction, the center is hardly a burden on the city or its taxpayers. In fact it’s more of a boon than a boondoggle.
It exceeds attendance projections of 70,000 visitors a year and last year drew more than 90,000 visitors, yet attendance is just one measure of its success. As Mayor Usha Reddi observed, the center is often the first thing visitors see when they enter Manhattan on K-177. What’s more, it’s a beautiful building that makes a positive first impression about our city on visitors.
It’s become important to permanent residents as well. Though the Discovery Center is still new, it’s difficult to imagine Manhattan without it. That’s partly because it’s also difficult to imagine Manhattan without the downtown redevelopment that a decade ago began to change both the face and the fortunes of the downtown area. Some of those shopping, dining and entertainment options would likely exist without the Discovery Center, but the center attracted STAR bonds that boosted redevelopment possibilities.
Said City Manager Ron Fehr: “Had we not some type of attractions component, we wouldn’t have leveraged the STAR bonds. We wouldn’t have been able to do near what we’ve done with Blue Earth Park, streetscaping and the parking garage with the conference center.”
In other words, the Discovery Center is even helping to attract visitors who might be too busy to make time to visit the unique facility.
Yes, it would be nice if the Discovery Center’s annual receipts exceeded its expenses. The fact that it hasn’t yet doesn’t mean it won’t; remember, it’s just five years old.
But in terms of its contributions to Manhattan’s public image, bottom line and quality of life, among other factors — the Discovery Center has been an outstanding investment.