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Legislator asks HLOM director to consider Sunday hours to increase revenue as budget crunch looms

By Mike Pettinella

Genesee County legislators on Monday urged the Holland Land Office Museum executive director to explore ways to increase revenue – even suggesting Sunday hours – and trim expenses in light of possible funding cuts in 2021.

Speaking at a Human Services Committee meeting, Ryan Duffy (inset photo right) presented a review of HLOM operations over the past year, and was quick to state the obvious: 2020 has been “very difficult” as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic that forced the West Main Street facility to close for three and a half months.

Still, he said there has been progress in some areas, notably by utilizing social media “quarantine” programs such as "Genesee County Jeopardy!" and history-themed activities related to food, movies and travel.

“Really, we’ve been trying to look at this pandemic as an opportunity,” he said, with an eye on maintaining and, in some cases, expanding its programming.

Upon reopening in early July, Duffy instituted an admissions fee, charging $5 for adults; $3 for seniors/students/veterans; $1 for children; and $10 for families of four. Museum members are admitted free of charge.

“We have seen a positive response in the two months," he said. "The fee structure is right in the ballpark."

Duffy mentioned other “positive” developments, including a video series about artifacts, installation of a new projector, screen and sound system in the East Wing for events and use by community groups, and restoration of the two cannons under the front canopy.

The cannons were restored by Seed Artillery of Altoona, Pa., and now are period accurate to the time of their forgings, pre-Civil War, Duffy reported.

“They came back and they look amazing … you won’t believe the difference,” he offered.

While efforts have been made to overcome a significant revenue loss (gift shop sales, major fundraiser and summer program cancellations, lack of group tours, etc.), things could get tougher next year if the county slashes its funding to outside agencies.

The county has committed to fully funding its 2020 commitment of $33,554, which represents about 40 percent of the HLOM’s budget, County Manager Matt Landers said.

“For 2021, outside agencies have been informed of potential cuts,” Landers said. “We will know more after our department heads submit their budgets by September 4th for me to review.”

Along these lines, Legislature Chair Rochelle Stein asked Duffy what he could do to cut costs and increase funding.

Duffy said that some expenses were naturally eliminated due to being closed and that he could find across the board cuts in programming, exhibits and equipment, if necessary. He said staff is always looking for grants – noting they received one recently for $2,500 – and in May, the museum joined the Amazon Smile fundraising platform.

Stein then brought up that the Historic Le Roy House attracts 10,000 visitors annually, with the bulk of its visitorship on Saturdays and Sundays.

“So, I would offer that as a peer comparison,” she said. “Would you imagine that Sunday might be a good day for visitors from out of town?”

Currently, the HLOM is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. Duffy said more than 1,000 people have visited the museum since September 2019.

Duffy, the only paid employee at the museum, responded by saying that’s “always a possibility” but the present schedule “is following the trends of the industry; most are closed on Sunday.”

Legislator Marianne Clattenburg spoke up in support of the museum, advising her colleagues that the HLOM received a Personal Payroll Protection loan from the federal government and conducted a fundraiser separate from its budget to restore the cannons.

As far as county funding is concerned, she said, “It seems like a small line item in our budget … but to them it is a large amount” and to reduce it would be “devastating.”

File photo of Ryan Duffy from Feb. 11, 2017.

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