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Columbus prepares for wave of Miller house visitors

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The Indianapolis Museum of Art and Columbus Area Visitors Center expect a wave of national media attention to drive bookings for tours of the Miller house in Columbus.

The tours start May 10, and nine of the 35 slots available next month have sold out since bookings opened a week ago. The pace might pick up when the next issue of Dwell, a magazine for design aficionados, hits the stands, and if national media outlets visit Columbus for a private tour later this month, officials said.

"We do anticipate people will plan vacations and weekends and come from all over," IMA spokeswoman Katie Zarich said.

Travel and Leisure, design bloggers,  The New York Times' style magazine and international publications all have shown interest in the Miller house, she said.

The IMA acquired the Miller house through a gift from the family of the late J. Irwin and Xenia Miller, the couple that turned Columbus into a mecca of modern architecture. The Millers' own house was designed by Eero Saarinen, who also designed the Gateway Arch in St. Louis. The house has never been open to the public because it was the Millers' primary residence until Xenia's death in 2008.

With the Miller house opening, the visitors center will go from running eight tours a week to 19. Associate Director Cindy Frey said the center hopes to see more bookings on both tours, as people who make the trip to Columbus will likely want to check out the rest of the city's architecture.

The visitors center has prepared for the leap in business by introducing online booking, adding a second cash register and training an army of volunteers, Frey said. About 36 new tour guides will handle the existing city tours, and 50 new guides will cover the Miller house. "We've been training volunteers since January to cover the capacity," Frey said.

The visitors center is splitting operational expenses and revenue from the $20 tour fee with the IMA. Frey said it's too soon to tell how bookings will pan out, and the visitors center has not developed a revenue estimate.

The museum added a full-time site administrator, Zarich said. Otherwise, regular museum staff and Bradley Brooks, director of historic operations who oversees the Lilly house on the IMA campus, have been making trips to Columbus.

The IMA says it will open the Miller house to a select number of private events for a rental fee of $10,000.

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