Archive for Thursday, September 17, 2009

Ag Hall funding spurs group protest

Farm Life: A Century of Change for Farm Families and Their Neighbors was a 2008 exhibit at the Agriculture Hall of Fame that examined the changes farming had seen in the last 100 years.

Farm Life: A Century of Change for Farm Families and Their Neighbors was a 2008 exhibit at the Agriculture Hall of Fame that examined the changes farming had seen in the last 100 years.

September 17, 2009

When the National Agricultural Center and Hall of Fame governing body met this week to discuss the future of the floundering museum and educational center, it had some visitors on its hands.

Members from Save the Ag Hall of Fame, a sort of grassroots movement made up of farmers and Hall of Fame enthusiasts in the area, were on hand Wednesday evening — after the Chieftain’s deadline — to conduct a protest as members of the center’s board of governors and the board of directors arrived for the meeting.

Save the Ag Hall was protesting what it sees as the eventual closing, selling and liquidation of the entire establishment and its approximately 160 acres of land, which the group claims is a main objective of the Ag Hall of Fame governing body.

Before the meeting, both sides discussed what they believe should be done to keep the Hall of Fame afloat.

“We just want to make sure there’s nothing that will come about … to do anything that would compromise the Ag Hall of Fame,” said Steve Tuttle, a Basehor resident and member of Save the Ag Hall of Fame.

But members of the board said permanently discontinuing operations at the Ag Hall of Fame, a federally chartered institution since the mid-1950s, couldn’t be further from their intentions. Nevertheless, something has to be done, they said, or the Hall of Fame’s doors would close on their own simply through lack of financing.

“That’s a misrepresentation of the position of the board,” said chairperson of both the board of governors and board of directors Bob Carlson in reference to the group’s claims. “We’re at a point where we have to consider alternatives. When I hear the word ‘liquidate,’ that simply means sell for cash, and that is not our goal. … Our goal is to continue the operation of the National Agricultural Center and Agricultural Hall of Fame.”

The governing body met in special session to appoint an ad hoc committee, comprised of three members from the board of governors and three from the board of directors, to evaluate alternatives. Included on the table, Carlson said, is one proposal from the Unified Government to take over the land and operations of the Hall of Fame for a minimum of three years.

“And it would certainly be our hope that it would be longer,” Carlson said.

Tuttle raised his own concerns about the Unified Government proposal, saying he believed the Hall of Fame governing body was planning to simply get rid of the museum and its artifacts and eventually turn the place into an online museum.

Curt Blades, who sits on the hall’s board of directors, said the governing body was willing to consider any proposal brought to the table, but with one request.

“One of the things we’re asking to be included in all proposals is a provision that allows for operations to continue into the near future,” Blades said.

Carlson said utilizing the Web to enhance already established exhibits was the only online possibility considered at this point.

Save the Ag Hall of Fame members won’t only be protesting what the governing body plans to do with the future, however. It also objects to is past and current management.

Members question where the close to $1 million went that was made from the sale of some land near 130th Street more than two years ago. Carlson said much of that money went toward expensive deferred maintenance projects, such as leaking roofs and air conditioner and heating problems, the Hall of Fame badly needed at the time.

“We were doing a lot of catch up,” he said.

Tuttle questioned why the Hall of Fame, currently debt-free from selling land to Sandstone and the Renaissance Festival a number of years ago, couldn’t take out a line of credit to get it through the economic slump it is facing. He said this would at least buy some more time. Using an analogy of his own experiences with farming, he said, perhaps, the real solution was to just keep plugging away at the problem.

“You just try your darnedest,” Tuttle said. “You just keep working at it, working at it. Things don’t come easy. We need a little more time to work on saving the place, as far as funding.”

Blades said he would consider pursuing a line of credit if it was the only option, but in the end it would be detrimental to the Hall of Fame.

“We’re going to lose money every year that we have the museum open, we know that we will lose money unless attendance goes up. Which attendance is not going to go up,” Blades said. “So you go into debt to fund something that’s never going to break even … I’d have a hard time supporting something that 20 years from now we’ll be having the same conversation, five years from now we’ll be having the same conversation.”

Amy O’Rourke, another Save the Ag Hall of Fame member, said perhaps there would be more attendance if the facility were modernized, with more up-to-date exhibits. She claimed the Hall of Fame governing body hadn’t done a good job of planning ahead for such financial catastrophes.

“To me it seems they need to step it up to 2009 and be proactive instead of reactive,” O’Rourke said.

In any event, the members of the Hall of Fame governing body say they are happy to have such a group as Save the Ag Hall of Fame on board and interested in, as its name suggests, saving the National Agricultural Center and Agricultural Hall of Fame. No matter what the disagreements are, Carlson said, the two parties have at least one common interest.

“It’s a very emotional thing, and there’s no doubt that we are all pulling in the same direction,” Carlson said. “The challenging question is, ‘how do we accomplish it?’”

Carlson said he expected a vote by the board of governors, which will make the final decision as to the future of the Hall of Fame, by the end of October.

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