The Legacy of the Plains Museum offers several educational programs to area school districts as well as various family-oriented events during the Harvest Festival and Oregon Trail Days. The pandemic put a halt on several of these events that are stable revenue sources for Legacy, leading to a decline in revenue for the non-profit.
To curb some of the lost revenue, Legacy submitted a request to amend its agreement with the City of Gering on its USDA Rural Economic Development Loan. Legacy of the Plains and the City of Gering entered into a Rural Economic Development Loan Agreement on Dec. 8, 2014. However, the pandemic restricted Legacy from holding various revenue-generating activities and attendance at the museum also dropped substantially.
Dave Wolf, executive director of Legacy of the Plains Museum, addressed the council about the economic hardship for the non-profit during the council meeting Monday.
“When COVID hit in March of last year, we closed down until June 1 per the governor’s guidelines, so we lost the start of tourism season,” Wolf said. “We had to cancel all but a couple of our events and all of our rentals during that time.”
Wolf approached Renae Jimenz, then-Gering’s finance director, about the possibility of suspending the loan payments at zero percent interest, which the city approved.
Throughout the pandemic, Legacy has been down 50% to 75% in visitor attendance, has been unable to host educational events and was only able to hold the Harvest Festival, Wolf told the council.
“We had 75 in the month of July and it slowly got to 50 as the season went on,” he said. “A lot of events got canceled and postponed to begin with. For the ones that got canceled, we refunded them. The ones that postponed came into this year, so while we got the revenue, we are losing revenue this year.”
Legacy saw an increase in visitors despite the reduced capacity starting in September through the end of the year, which helped with revenue.
Some of the national museum associations are predicting between 25% to 33% of museums and art galleries will be lost due to COVID-19, Wolf said.
“It’s museums like ours that are the most vulnerable because we aren’t high-in with $1 million endowments,” he said. “We’re also not the small museums where their overhead is a lot less than what ours is. It’s the medium-sized museums that have the big campuses that take a lot of money to run, but don’t have the endowments and cash flows.”
Wolf said they also cut expenses by one-third, paying close attention to every penny being spent to ensure the museum would not have to close.
“We have donations, which is similar to taxpayer dollars, and people who donate to our museum expect us to be frugal with our money to accomplish the mission of the museum,” he said. “I think we’ve done a very good job of doing that.”
The suspension of payments without interest helped the museum’s bottom line during the slower months, despite the effects of the pandemic.
Since March, the museum has seen an uptick in visitors and Wolf is hopeful to attract Coloradans from the Front Range to the region as well as local visitors to the museum.
He also expressed gratitude for the collaboration with the City of Gering.
“The city is a great partner and we really appreciate all that you are doing not only for us, but also for the community,” Wolf said.
Mayor Tony Kaufman acknowledged the financial struggle businesses and nonprofits have endured during the pandemic.
“Again, 2020 was an enduring year for many businesses and nonprofits alike,” he said. “We really appreciate that you weathered the storm and being here for the future.”
Gering city council voted unanimously to approve Kaufman’s signature on the addendum to the Rural Economic Development Loan Agreement between the city and Legacy of the Plains Museum during the Monday, April 26 regular council meeting.
Gering City Administrator Pat Heath submitted an addendum to the agreement, citing the terms of the agreement between the municipality and Legacy. Within the original agreement, Legacy agreed to make 96 monthly payments of $3,750, starting in 2016. The modified agreement extends the payment schedule with the final payment to be made on Jan. 8, 2026, according to the addendum. Legacy will continue to make $3,750 per month payments on June 8 to accommodate a deferment of some of the payments due to the COVID-19 pandemic.