Scottsdale leaders know it would cost about $15 million over five years to bring a branch of the Buffalo Bill Historical Center to town. What they don’t know are what economic gains the city would get in return.
A summary of the needs of the Cody, Wyo.-based center, provided to members of the Scottsdale City Council during the past month and obtained by the Tribune, states that the museum would require a $2.5 million start-up payment and $1 million a year in operating costs from the city for its first five years.
In addition, the city has budgeted $7.5 million to build a 20,000-square-foot museum downtown. The construction price, however, can increase at the center’s request.
"It’s definitely going to bear some scrutiny to the economic benefit to the area," Councilman Jim Lane said.
The center, which exhibits memorabilia from the life of the Old West legend Buffalo Bill Cody, houses five museums on a 40-acre site in Cody and is characterized by city officials as a premier Western historical center.
Robert Shimp, the center’s executive director, said the center would send some of its most popular exhibits to Scottsdale during the winter when the Cody facility has few visitors. Other exhibits would rotate throughout the year.
While Scottsdale council members know the projected costs, Michelle Korf, deputy director of Scottsdale’s Downtown Group, is still preparing the city’s plan that will detail financial incentives.
That plan is tentatively scheduled to go before the council in December, with the city making a final decision on a contract with the Cody center’s board in January.
Councilman Wayne Ecton, a proponent of the plan, said whatever funding the city provides for a Western museum should not be considered a subsidy. Because museums enhance a city’s quality of life, they should be placed in the same category as libraries, he said.
However, the center is privately funded and Mayor Mary Manross and some council members believe the Scottsdale branch would draw tourists.
Determining how many tourists it might attract, and how much money they might spend in Scottsdale will be central to the council’s upcoming decision.
"It’s really the key to whether we should provide any operating funds," Ecton said. "Of course, the whole idea was that it woul d create a new market."
A branch of the center would not be expected to break even, Korf has said, but its value would be measured by its overall economic impact.
"Sometimes they try to line up indirect revenues," Lane said. "I don’t even know that anyone has been able to provide that."
The center has provided Scottsdale a draft business plan detailing its desired
financial package and building features, Korf said. The city has refused a Tribune public records request for those documents.
City spokesman Pat Dodds said it was too early to release the public records, as they could interrupt Scottsdale’s negotiations with the center’s board.
Only Councilman Bob Littlefield has been openly critical of the museum plans, calling the projected costs a "boondoggle" for Scottsdale taxpayers. Others have said they support putting a museum in the Main Street Plaza, which the city has been trying to do for years, but say they still have questions about the costs.
"On the overall, I do like the idea of the museum," Lane said.