Conner Prairie seeks funding to keep balloon ride flying

June 6, 2014
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By the end of Conner Prairie’s 2014 season, about 100,000 people will have taken to the skies in its tethered helium balloon—a high-flying attraction that soared to landmark status soon after it debuted five years ago.

Leaders at the Fishers interactive history park nevertheless “thought long and hard” about replacing the balloon, which is approaching the end of its useful life, CEO Ellen Rosenthal told Town Council this week.

They ultimately determined its iconic value outweighed the $500,000 cost.

So with a new balloon “envelope” under construction in Paris (and a new balloon sponsor under wraps until next season), Rosenthal asked the council to consider increasing its annual support for the not-for-profit museum from $50,000 to $100,000.

“It’s an integral part of the community,” she said of the museum.

Conner Prairie reported record attendance of 340,000 last year and ranks among the country’s top 5 most-visited outdoor history museums, Rosenthal said. Nearly 80 percent of guests came from outside Fishers, and more than half from outside Hamilton County.

But the not-for-profit museum subsidizes 60 percent of the cost of every visit, she said.

About a third of its $10 million budget comes from ticket sales, concessions and other “earned” revenue, Rosenthal told the council. Another third comes from its endowment, and the remainder from grants and donations.

Council members seemed receptive to her pitch for more funding, but they didn’t make any promises. Such requests will be considered during the budget cycle that begins this fall, said council President John Weingardt.

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  • Many visitors, but...
    ...how many of those visitors come directly to Conner Prairie, spend a day there, then leave back home? Especially those visitors that come in on a school bus? The reason this is important to me is that while Conner Prairie is a huge asset to Fishers I just wonder how many people stop to have dinner, spend the night at a local hotel, or spend other money in the community outside of Conner Prairie? This is the point of convention business, right? It's not just to say we have a bunch of people driving through Fishers, but to have them stop, play, eat, sleep in Fishers. To spend money in Fishers.
    • Good comment DadinFishers
      I think you've given the Conner Prairie folks and the Town/City of Fishers folks something to collaborate on. Seems obvious from the outside, but perhaps they need to be looking for ways to promote stay & play type packages within the tourism marketing of the town/city beyond saying "hey, we have this for you to come see"......and then go downtown Indy for accommodations and dining. There is certainly an opportunity there to integrate some intentional collaborative marketing.
    • We Like It...
      OK, I'll admit, living in Fishers, we've gotten used to so much at Conner Prairie. However, whenever we have friends in from out of town, that's always a must-do. So, they're not conventioneers, but they contribute to hotels (at times), restaurants, and other local establishments. We've even had friends come in during the winter JUST to attend the hearthside suppers! So, in my opinion, Fishers needs to coordinate with Conner Prairie to ensure its continuing success...
    • Ticket Revenue
      What happened to the ticket Revenue? Did Conner Prairie not realize when they installed the attraction that it would require maintenance costs and eventually replacement? at $10/ride for children and $15/ride for adults, that's easily $1 million. Perhaps Conner prairie should look at a little better fiscal responsibility than asking for additional money from the council.
    • Scott will help!
      Just talk to Scott and he will give you all the money you need.

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    1. If I were a developer I would be looking at the Fountain Square and Fletcher Place neighborhoods instead of Broad Ripple. I would avoid the dysfunctional BRVA with all of their headaches. It's like deciding between a Blackberry or an iPhone 5s smartphone. BR is greatly in need of updates. It has become stale and outdated. Whereas Fountain Square, Fletcher Place and Mass Ave have become the "new" Broad Ripples. Every time I see people on the strip in BR on the weekend I want to ask them, "How is it you are not familiar with Fountain Square or Mass Ave? You have choices and you choose BR?" Long vacant storefronts like the old Scholar's Inn Bake House and ZA, both on prominent corners, hurt the village's image. Many business on the strip could use updated facades. Cigarette butt covered sidewalks and graffiti covered walls don't help either. The whole strip just looks like it needs to be power washed. I know there is more to the BRV than the 700-1100 blocks of Broad Ripple Ave, but that is what people see when they think of BR. It will always be a nice place live, but is quickly becoming a not-so-nice place to visit.

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