2011-03-03 / Local & State

Tourism Down At Historic House In Gettysburg

By Scot Andrew Pitzer

GETTYSBURG, Pa. (AP) – As the non-profit Main Street Gettysburg moves into its third year of operating the David Wills House, visitation has fallen well short of original expectations.

The $7 million National Park Service facility opened on the southeast quadrant of Lincoln Square in 2009, and Main Street operates the Abraham Lincoln and Civil War museum on behalf of the park.

After two years, the the museum has drawn 60,000 visitors – even though about 100,000 were expected annually, per original studies.

“ It’s something we’re working on,’’ Main Street Director Deb Adamik said Wednesday morning at the Gettysburg Hotel, during her group’s annual business meeting. She pointed out that visitation flourished when the museum opened in February 2009, and continued throughout the tourist season that year, but has since dropped off.

“You do that when you start out,’’ Adamik told a crowd of about 50 community leaders and Main Street donors. “You have a big first year, and then go down, and then you have to build yourself back up.’’

The shortfall was attributed to the unstable economy, marketing, and other factors. Officials hope that the upcoming 150th anniversary of the American Civil War results in a spike in visitation here, including the Wills House.

“There is an infancy stage in any new business,’’ said Adamik. “You’re really pouplar when you open, and then reality hits, so you really have to look at the norms.’’ Adamik noted that the complex opened in the crux of the national recession in February 2009, and that a series of blizzards pelted Adams County early in 2010, when Lincoln-oriented events were scheduled at the Wills House.

According to statistics, 35,000 people visited the museum in its first year of operations in 2009. President Abraham Lincoln penned the final words to the Gettysburg Address during his overnight stay at the house in Nov. 1863, and the house also features exhibits commemorating the aftermath of the Civil War, as well as artifacts, a film, audio programming and two re- created rooms.

The park and Main Street are looking at “creative packaging and marketing’’ in an effort to boost visitation at the Wills House, and bring more people to a struggling downtown. Main Street’s annual spending plan of $182,000 features very little money for marketing.

“(We’re) trying to better figure out how better market the Wills House, how to do interpretive programs there, and make it more of an attraction,’’ Gettysburg National Military Park Superintendent Bob Kirby said during an interview on FoxSports 1320 WGET. “There is always a bump in visitation in your first year, and there’s a decline afterwards, and then you have to be creative in figuring out how to get people to come back,’’ explained Kirby.

According to original estimates, the Wills House was projected to draw 75,000 visitors in a “down’’ year, and more than 150,000 on a “good’’ year. Over two years, the new museum has drawn just 60,000 people.

Main Street Board Chairman Emried Cole noted that there was a $39,000 decrease in “net assets’’ for the Wills House. Over the next year, the group’s 18- member board of directors intends to spend an “awful amount of time addressing issues, with short and long- term responses’’ while reviewing visitation trends.

New marketing and ticketing proposals include a package with the Freedom Transit trolley system, in which patrons purchase a ticket at the new Battlefield Visitor Center, south of town, with reduced admissions to the Wills House.

Otherwise, tickets are $6.50 for adults, and $4 for youth, and the museum is open from 9 a. m.- 5 p. m. Thursday through Monday. The $7 million, three-year project was entirely subsidized by federal tax dollars.

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