Traverse City Record-Eagle

December 14, 2012

History Center of Traverse City heads toward deadline

After funding cut, History Center aims for self-sufficiency


TRAVERSE CITY — It's been a busy year at the History Center of Traverse City as it heads toward a 2014 self-sufficiency deadline.

And Bill Kennis, the Center's executive director since August 2011, is confident the center will make that deadline, despite the looming loss of $50,000 in funding from the city.

"We doubled our revenues this year, from about $128,000 last year to $238,000 already this year," Kennis said this week. "We project 50 percent growth next year and we envision ourselves as a self-sufficient organization."

The funding cut is part of a restructuring plan worked out this year between the city, Downtown Development Authority and the History Center.

Under the restructuring, the DDA agreed to provide $50,000 in tax-increment-financing funds for History Center operations during the first two quarters of 2013. In April it will evaluate and decide whether to continue funding for the rest of 2013 up to June 2014.

Kennis is optimistic.

Attendance at the History Center exhibits and activities from January through October totaled 7,753.

The Festival of Trains, one of the center's largest money-makers, starts Saturday and runs through New Year's Day.

Kennis expects it to top last year's attendance of 8,600 visitors and bring in an estimated $45,000.

The center's revival in the city-owned, 1904 Carnegie Building on Sixth Street has taken some modern twists and turns this year under Kennis' direction.

New programs included a Lego Carnival from Easter to September, summer Magical History Tours, the fall "Legends: Community through Diversity" exhibit, and the Haunted Museum Nights of Halloween, complete with the resurrection of northern Michigan's "Dogman," legend and "Mumford," the museum's mummified squirrel.

The four-month Lego Carnival attracted more than 20,000 visitors and raised over $100,000.

The 90-minute Magical History Tour through historic neighborhoods, downtown, the state hospital and waterfront enticed 3,000 riders.

About 1,500 parents and kids came through the quirky Haunted Nights at the Museum and showing of local filmmaker Rich Brauer's "Dogman" movie.

"We want something to be happening at the History Center every month," Kennis said. "We want people to think there's always something worthwhile here."

Kennis is a former business owner with experience in the nonprofit sector and in marketing, and he co-created Oxysox, a patented athletic sock. He also owned a Waldorf school and served as a charter member of the Troy Downtown Development Association and executive director of the Lennon Pregnancy Center. He has a master's of business administration from Michigan State University.

Under the restructuring, the History Center's current operational budget is $250,000, Kennis said. It will lease the Carnegie building from the city for two more years and pay its own operations, utilities and security. The city will continue to fund routine maintenance and capital expenses.

After 2014, city officials want to enter into a long-term lease or sell the building, he said.

The History Center's self-sufficiency strategy is to expand programs, add new ones and grow its membership, donor base, and partnerships with other groups during the first year.

After that, Kennis would like to conduct a feasibility study to determine foundation and other support of creating an endowment and capital improvement funds.