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County to cover dino museum’s $300K deficit

The Philip J. Currie Dinosaur Museum was looking at the possibility of not being able to pay its staff next month, but the County of Grande Prairie has stepped in. It will give the museum $300,000 to cover its bills for the rest of the year. River of Death and Discovery Society Dinosaur Museum chairman Tim Powell says the funding will carry them through the end of the year.

“We’re streamlined in the last month or so; we’ve gone through all of our contracts. Of course, first year of operations, we’ve gone through things like utilities were $30,000 higher than we thought it would take to run the building, so a few things out of our control.”

More than 120,000 people went through the building in its first year, but many of those were school groups who pay a discounted admittance fee. It was expected admission would bring in $2.25 million, but it’s worked out to less than a quarter of that so far.

Major fundraisers like the Amber Ball have also brought in less than hoped. The 2016 event brought in $7,000 in ticket sales and $25,000 through a raffle. Back in 2014, the ball brought in $350,000, which disappointed then Pipestone Creek Dinosaur Initiative Executive Director Brian Brake. He noted that the celebrities that attended did not open their wallets.

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Powell says with the councillors’ help and cutting costs, he hopes to come close to breaking even next year. County Reeve Leanne Beaupre says she also feels confident they’re making the right moves to turn things around.

“You don’t really realize until you’ve had a year under your belt what the costs are going to be, and there was a lot of advertising costs that had to go in to promoting the museum. Now that promotion is there and they’ve found their place on the map, I think they can look more strategically at how they do their advertising.”

The museum parted ways with former president and CEO George Jacob at the end of October, two years into his three year contract. At that time, Powell said he had done a “great job” of getting them out nationally and internationally, but the focus is now moving “a little closer to home.”

At the end of last week, the City of Grande Prairie turned down a request from the museum for $150,000 to cover operating costs and $150,000 to help finish the Devonian exhibit. Beaupre says she was discouraged by the city’s decision.

“The majority of the benefit of the dinosaur museum is directly associated to the City of Grande Prairie. If you talk about the museum, it’s always talked about as being in Grande Prairie. It is a regional facility that benefits all, but everyone but the City of Grande Prairie at this point has ponied up to give operating dollars.”

While disappointed, Powell says they’ll continue to look for ways to work with the city. The County’s total contribution to operating costs this year is now $800,000, in addition to $150,000 from Saddle Hills County and $100,000 from the MD of Greenview.

Next year’s budget is expected to be around the $1.8 million mark, including the hiring of a marketing and fundraising director.

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