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Waukesha County Board will hear results from museum feasibility study

Aug. 20, 2013

The new Les Paul exhibit at the Waukesha County Museum was created to honor the music legend who was born and is buried here.

It was also created to attract a regional audience.

How it reaches this audience in the future was one of the areas of focus in a recent marketing feasibility study, which has not been released yet.

"We're looking at the vision of the museum to create a 21st century regional attraction," said Kirsten Lee Villegas, chief executive officer and president of the Waukesha County Museum, which was designated as a national historic site in 1975.

One of the areas the study looked at was the museum's location, 101 W. Main St., in downtown Waukesha. The museum is housed at the old Waukesha County Courthouse that was built in 1893. But one of the options the study looked at was possibly moving the museum closer to I-94.

"A number of different options were reviewed, one being our current location but nothing has been defined," Villegas said. "Part of what we're looking at is what the vision would look like in terms of cultural attractions."

Villegas said the study looked at a number of factors ranging from current tourism trends to how to bring in the most traffic.

"We looked at it from a local standpoint with many, many barometers," Villegas said. "What's exciting is that it shows the vision and planning. The first step was the Les Paul exhibit as a test to see how that performed and so far that's been performing phenomenally."

The museum will present the results of its survey at the next Waukesha County Board meeting, scheduled for 7 p.m. Aug. 27 at the Waukesha County Courthouse, Room 350.

"What they're looking at is not acceptable to us," Waukesha County Board Chairman Paul Decker said.

In November 2002, the Waukesha County Historical Society took over ownership of the museum after the Waukesha County Board of Supervisors sold it for $1. The county signed papers in January 2003 to transfer ownership to the Waukesha County Historical Society.

From that time, the county had a 10-year commitment to substantially fund the museum.

Only about 40 to 50 percent of the museum's budget is through taxpayers in Waukesha County, Villegas said.

"Some museums are heavily funded, but we're more on the lean end and it only comes out to 0.77 per person each year to help the museum," Villegas said.

Decker said that in previous years the county has spent anywhere from $250,000 to the $330,000 it spent on the museum last year.

But Decker added he expects that total to drop off substantially for the 2014 budget.

"While that was approved, it was agreed upon that it would not continue at that level," Decker said. "But how much, right now, we don't know."

And any talk of a potential move doesn't necessarily sit well with Decker.

"We are concerned that we've put a lot of money into the museum for the current building, but we feel they should come up with a better operating plan than they are before any move," Decker said. "We don't feel county taxpayers want to pay for considerable expansion.

"The county already invested money and we want to optimize that investment and see some return. But moving huge costs at this point would be difficult for the current plan.

"This represents the entire county so that's our concern."

Nevertheless, Villegas said relocating, if it happens at all, would not come anytime soon.

"Any kind of planning is far into the future," Villegas said.

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