View Full Version : Omniplex closing?

04-11-2005, 03:46 PM
The Omniplex, an awesome tourist attraction for our city, may have to close. This would be a huge blow to our city. Apparently, they're not anywhere close to breaking even when it comes to operating expenses.

I'd be interested to know how other science centers around the country are financed.

"Omniplex fighting for its life

By Steve Lackmeyer and Ty McMahan
The Oklahoman

Declining revenues and attendance have placed Oklahoma City's Omniplex on a list of endangered science museums struggling to stay relevant in the Internet era.

The Omniplex still routinely draws a quarter million visitors a year, but after years of losses totaling more than $7 million, directors revealed last week they've considered shutting down.

After writing up a plan on how to close the Omniplex, board members decided to find a way to survive -- and rally community support.

Callers make plea
The museum's plight was made public for the first time Friday, when it was reported by The Oklahoman.

"The phones have been ringing off the hook," said Donald Otto, interim director. "They're all supportive. We're hearing from people we've not heard from in a while. And everybody is saying they don't want us to cut back -- they want it to be more than what it is today."

The Omniplex is a mix of aging exhibits with a few newer displays added in, all aimed at educating children and adults about nature, physics, biology, space, chemistry and engineering.

Cultural exhibits are sprinkled in, reflecting the intention of founder and longtime benefactor John Kirkpatrick.

For the last several years, interest and investment earnings from an endowment provided by Kirkpatrick covered operating losses. But those earnings are no longer sufficient to cover the gap or pay for new exhibits needed to keep the museum on the cutting edge, Otto said.

"We've been lucky enough to have an angel that founded this museum and supported it for many years," Otto said. "But times change, and it's time for the support to expand, and to be more than just from one family or one individual."

Before Bricktown's rebirth, the Omniplex, National Cowboy Hall of Fame and the Oklahoma City Zoo were the chief tourist attractions.

The zoo and the hall of fame, renamed the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum, have been enlarged and renovated. A new Oklahoma City Museum of Art and Oklahoma City National Memorial Center Museum made downtown a competing cultural and educational hub.

Otto said the Omniplex was hit hard by the drop in museum attendance reported nationally after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

"It took a long time for people to recover, to go out again," Otto said. "There seems to be a portion of the public that just seems to have stopped going to museums."

Financial troubles also have been reported at the Putnam Museum in Davenport, Iowa, the Denver Museum of Nature and Science, the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History, and the Museum of Science and Technology in Syracuse, N.Y.

Newer digs don't always ensure success.

Ohio's Columbus Center of Science and Industry opened in a new $125 million, larger museum in 1999 with hopes of attracting up to 2 million visitors a year.

But reports show attendance peaked at about 1 million that first year and dropped to less than 600,000 the past few years.

Some of the troubles are blamed on a building spree of science museums in the 1970s and 1980s.

Sheila Grinell, author of "A Place for Learning Science: Starting a Science Center and Keeping it Running," said expansion hastened the demise of some of those attractions by diminishing their status as regional destinations.

"Hands-on was new and valuable, and is still important to science education," Grinell said.

"The Internet and all the other options for getting that interactive experience became competition for science centers. A lot of the things we pioneered have become commonplace."

Grinell said science museums now have to earn their keep.

"You have to provide change, make things convenient, safe and accessible. You have to do some things for fees and contracts, like field trips and birthday parties."

Since the Omniplex's earliest days as a planetarium at State Fair Park, it has always been funded through donations -- including millions from Kirkpatrick -- and admissions.

A survey last year by the Association of Science Technology Centers of 185 museums shows nearly two-thirds of respondents have endowments. However, the survey's authors found endowments are less common in science centers than with any other kind of museum participating in the survey.

Grinell said few science museums have endowments. She said most successful museums operate "in the black," and "you can take a science center over seven years and they might be in the red for one year."

Grinell said public dollars typically cover a science museum's capital needs, while operations should be covered by contributions and admissions.

At the Omniplex, the directors have watched an extensive make-over of the adjoining Oklahoma City Zoo fueled by a permanent, dedicated sales tax. Nearby, the Softball Hall of Fame was expanded and renovated using $3.5 million from a property tax increase passed by voters in 2000.

Otto can quickly dream up a list of improvements needed at Omniplex: new exhibits, renovation of the interior and vintage 1970s-exterior and replacement and removal of outdated displays.

In the interim, however, cutting operations and reducing costs may be the only solutions. He agrees with Grinell that cutting back only ensures more problems ahead.

"You have to grow yourselves out of these problems," Otto said. "In the short term, we may have to do some cost cutting -- but we're going to be doing it in a way that we'll be looking to the future."

04-11-2005, 03:47 PM
Omniplex timeline
1958: Kirkpatrick Planetarium created with a donation from the Junior League of Oklahoma City.

1962: John E. Kirkpatrick family provides a permanent dome structure for the popular planetarium at State Fair Park. The family establishes the Oklahoma Science and Arts Foundation.

1978: Kirkpatrick Center museum complex opens at 2100 NE 52. The foundation, after changing its name to Omniplex Science Museum, becomes the building's first tenant. Kirkpatrick Planetarium reopens in the center a few months later.

1980: Oklahoma Air and Space Museum becomes a new addition in Kirkpatrick Center.

1985: John Kirkpatrick envisions an outdoor sanctuary and gardeners' learning center and opens the Kirkpatrick Gardens and Greenhouse adjacent to the south side of the building.

1993: The "Investing in Curiosity" campaign is started by the Omniplex Science Museum with a goal of raising $3 million for capital improvements. The campaign starts with a $500,000 donation from John Kirkpatrick and is the first major capital improvements fund drive since the museum's opening 15 years earlier.

1994: The "Investing in Curiousity" campaign ends with more than $3.1 million raised.

1996: Kirkpatrick Center, the Oklahoma Air and Space Museum and Omniplex merge to create a new organization -- Kirkpatrick Science and Air Space Museum.

1998: Omniplex starts construction on the OmniDome Theater, the state's first large-format, dome-screen theater.

2000: Omniplex opens to sellout audiences.

2003: "Titanic: The Artifact Exhibit" sets museum attendance records, attracting more than 217,000 visitors during its seven-month run.

04-11-2005, 03:52 PM
It seems like the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum does fairly well off of corporate donations. I wonder why the Omniplex hasn't explored some of the funding options the Cowboy Museum has. Having a full time fundraising coordinator might help if they don't already have one.

04-11-2005, 04:14 PM
I have a friend that used to work for Red Earth, they had their headquarters on the second floor of the Omniplex, and for some strange reason she couldn't tell me why they were moving... ahh, now I know.

Actually, I know exactly why visitor counts up there have been lacking. It is the schools' fault. Cuttign back on field trips has done THIS to our city's best tourist assets. OK, so we can say bye-bye to our science museum, which was the Southwest's (a region I refuse to believe we are in) largest.

What is next, our award winning zoo closing?

Schools need to be taking field trips once again... I don't even think we are in dire straights money-wise anymore, I just think that they learned a nifty trick on how to save bookoos of money.

04-11-2005, 05:51 PM
They undoubtedly need to bounce the yet
to be convicted felon at the helm.....
From what I can read between the lines, his attorney's
have been negotiating on this matter for a long long time.....
signaling dirty fingers in my mind......regardless of the outcome,
his tenoir should be limited at best......but the Omniplex has
more "Ominous" problems

Field trips are NOT the reason........

I think the primary reason is that there has not been what
I would call a "permanent reinvention" so to speak.......

Case in point.......During the Titanic Exhibit.....a little over 200,000
people flocked to the Omniplex to see "something cool" and
they paid one helluva lot of money to do it.....and then left with
some parting gifts courtesy of their gift exchange for another
"helluva" lot of money.....

What the Omniplex needs is "something cool" that can't be found elsewhere...
and something that also doesn't just hang around for 7 months and leave.....
it needs to be done on a huge scale so that the people of Oklahoma "NOTICE IT"....
(See constant Radio Ads on Titanic, as well as TV)

Space and Science Museums all over this nation have sprung up in the last 20 years
to far exceed Omniplex and you'd better believe it's a function of cash.......
they've diversified their sources......Omniplex still seems to be relying on the returns
of long passed John Kirkpatrick...

There are no less than 100 names I can think of that could be doing more with their
position in this community to demand the Omniplex reinvent itself with brand new
fresh exhibits......they can do it with their wallets, but more than that, they can
do it with their "INFLUENCE"......

Remember MAPS?

Our science museum draws people from out of town school districts......with it's
sheer size and potential, it should be drawing people from out of STATE school districts....
You can be sure the Cosmosphere does......

One of the criteria I'm basing this on, is the last time my family was
at the Omniplex (For Titanic, of course).....I was amazed to see exhibits
that were there when I came with my school class at the age of 9.....

I'm 36 now....

Having said all this, I think with a major infusion of cash and imagination....
the two main ingredients for any turnaround, the Omniplex has the pieces
available to be a world class facility......

And if all this isn't successful, we'll install blackjack tables and slots....
and call it "mechanical versus manual chance exhibits"

04-12-2005, 12:39 AM
I completely agree.

But, to make these changes and keep on the cutting edge, the Omniplex is gonig to need more money, in addition to money to pay off their existing debts.

They seriously need to consider some fundraisers.

One has to look at the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum. They had considered moving the entire museum to Colorado Springs when financial problems were brewing. Instead of moving, they decided to keep the museum here, reinvest and expand the existing structure, and seek more donors to complete their goals.

Omniplex will have to follow the same strategy. Come up with a master plan to improve the facility and present it to corporations who might be interested in investing in the future goals at the Omniplex. Corporations typically don't want to invest in an old science museum with no future goals.

04-12-2005, 07:41 AM
It was announced yesterday evening that the Omniplex will NOT close after all. They will keep it going no matter what.

04-12-2005, 07:58 AM
The last time we took my daughter there, about 3 years ago, many of the displays were not in working order and the whole place just had a dirty look about it. I swore then that I would never go back or recommend it to anybody. How is it now as far as everything working and general cleanliness.

04-12-2005, 08:05 AM
Hallelujia! The kids love that place - the Planetarium is sort of boring for them but they like everything else, That's Gross Exhibit was great.

That's the one place I take friends & relatives visiting from California - they are all expecting Indians and Plains - I like to surprise them with the Omniplex and the Zoo and then onto Bricktown- they seem pretty surprised with all of the activity.

I think we should all show support and make a visit there soon, if you haven't been for awhile, you might enjoy it, the Big Screen is really cool and you can have kid's birthday parties there as well.

04-12-2005, 08:45 AM
Omniplex just needs a complete makeover. thats all there is to it. The one time i went there i was just bored out of my mind. Everything is just so outdated and it looks trashy. I think they should just start closing one section at a time and renovate it and then promote like hell about its' "grand reopening". Take a fresh start to the "new future" of the Omniplex. Im just rambling. sorry.

04-12-2005, 05:35 PM
I agree. They're not going to make more money with the building and exhibits in their current state. They need to start a new fundraising campaign to not only pay off the debts but also to completely renovate the whole facility, inside and out.

04-12-2005, 09:50 PM
I say close it down and build a new science museum either downtown or near the Capitol by the new state history museum. Get some corporate sponsors and add a special Oklahoma "severe weather" component to it and make it unique.

04-12-2005, 10:19 PM
I don't think they need a sales tax. Why aren't they following the zoo's example. Sell memberships or have special breakfasts or dinners. The zoo has several dinners and breakfasts throughout the year. The also have the zoo friends memberships. My sister bought a family membership for her family. Every so often the zoo has members only events that occur after the zoo closes.

There are just too many methods to mention to raise money. I think we need to get out of the habit of funding everything with a sales tax. The schools and infrastructure were enough. Sales tax funding is great when the economy is up but, when its down it just forces people to shop outside of OKC.

04-12-2005, 11:57 PM
The Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum makes quite a bit of money off of renting out their large meeting room. IMO, the Omniplex should convert their current auditorium with stadium seating to a huge conference room that could be rented out for different events. This would be another option for the Omniplex to make money.

They seriously need to consider hiring a fundraising coordinator.