The management and board of trustees of the Connecticut Science Center have reasons to be optimistic about their mission to generate excitement and interest about science and technology among the stateís school children.
Attendance has exceeded expectations since the science center opened in June, attracting more than 206,000 visitors.
They should be applauded for their hard work in achieving early success in the current recession.
Itís also good news for taxpayers, who invested about $120 million in the $160 million Cesar Pelli-designed structure. In part, the stateís investment also was meant to create a tourist attraction to help revitalize Hartford by stimulating the regionís economy.
Although the science center has been open for just about six months, its reach outside the state appears to be growing. According to leaders at the science center, it is attracting students from southern Massachusetts, an unexpected bonus considering the wide draw of the Museum of Science in Boston.
But its reach could be greater if the science center kept its doors open some evenings and boosted its marketing efforts. But that hasnít been possible because the state backed out of its promise to provide about 15 percent ó or $1.2 million ó of the centerís annual operating costs.
Currently, the science center is open from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m. and is closed on Mondays.
By significantly slashing its financial support, Connecticut is missing an opportunity to leverage the buzz about New Englandís newest science museum.
While the state is experiencing a significant budget deficit, its leaders are short-sighted in cutting back funding because it shortchanges the taxpayerís multimillion dollar investment. Marketing the science center as New Englandís newest and latest attraction to residents in Rhode Island, New York and Massachusetts could yield a higher rate of return on Connecticutís investment by attracting more visitors to Hartford and the region.
When the economy fully recovers and money starts flowing again to the stateís coffers, marketing a great, yet older museum will not achieve the same results as it could now.
In addition, with the recession taking its toll on restaurants and hotels in the region, staying true to the stateís initial 15 percent commitment to the Connecticut Science Center is the right thing to do for taxpayers and businesses in the region.
Downtown retailers rely on visitors to Hartford, evident by the crowded downtown restaurants and bars when the University of Connecticut basketball teams play at the XL Center.
Promoting the science center throughout New England would help to bring in more patrons to the city.
In particular, 40 percent of downtown Hartfordís half-million square feet of retail space is vacant, a recent city tally shows. In all, 203,000 square feet of the 511,000 square feet of retail space identified in 191 units in the center of the city is vacant.
More visitors to Hartford would help increase the demand for downtown retailers.
Backing away from the stateís financial promise to support the science center, when the region and city clearly need more visitors, isnít the way to go.
Connecticutís leaders need to rethink how they appropriate funding to ineffective, state-run programs to free up more money that will better establish Connecticutís economy in the future.