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Sizing Up Science Center: High Cost, Short Hours

Laurence D. Cohen

August 10, 2009

If one reviews the years of hyperbole and self-congratulations and cheerleading associated with Hartford’s new Connecticut Science Center, there is room for significant confusion about its business plan.

When state, regional and city officials mulled the prospects of putting professional football teams, ESPN fun palaces, or almost anything else that didn’t seem completely ludicrous downtown, the aim appeared to be the creation of a draw for the new conventioneers sucked into town by the new convention center — or, at the least, a magnet for regional suburbanites who were tired of mowing their lawns.

As the Front Street project, designed to offer the convention center guests something to look at besides tumbling tumbleweed, seemed to go nowhere; and downtown retail sagged; and the economy slapped around convention business, the powers-that-be panicked a bit and settled on a science museum — a public project that did not requite private developers and, if all else failed, could dragoon zillions of school kids sent there on field trips.

So far, so sort-of-good. The thing finally got done; the science museum is open, with sufficient bells and whistles to place it in the mainstream of such facilities in other places. But because, perhaps, it was not first choice among many as the primary downtown draw; because, perhaps, Hartford and Connecticut continue to be sluggish and dull on matters of travel-and-tourism marketing, the facility is going to need some slapping around if it is going to avoid being a giant, expensive white elephant that the state will be forced to subsidize, forever.

First, the print advertising. The ads announcing the opening have been reasonably alluring, but to the puzzlement of the masses, there is seldom, if ever, any mention of such stuff as what days and hours the thing is open — and how much it would cost to come in and play. Oh, to be sure, you could go online and dig around for such details, but for a new facility to make you work for your marketing information seems a bit peculiar.

As to the ticket price, well, truth be told, the Connecticut Science Center is too expensive. A general-admission adult ticket is $16; there are no AARP or AAA discounts to be found. Seniors (65 and over) get in for a symbolic “discount” of $1.50 — so it still costs grandma $14.50 to explore her carbon footprint. Only kids up to the age of 2 get in free; even 3-year-olds cost $13.

Ponder the price of admission at the wondrous Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago, where the general admission is $13, grandma costs $12, and kids get in for $9. Even at the Maryland Science Center in Baltimore, specifically sited to gobble up convention tourists who don’t necessarily care what anything costs, general admission is cheaper than in Hartford, as are the senior and kid rates.

As for the mysterious hours of operation, again, Hartford falters compared to Chicago and Baltimore. In Hartford, the museum will be open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Tuesday through Sunday, with Mondays added in the summer. Those hours don’t seem right to snare conventioneers or downtown revelers. In Baltimore, the science museum stays open until 6 p.m., Sunday through Thursday — and stays open until 8 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. In Chicago, the museum opens earlier than Hartford and stays open later, except on Sundays, when it opens at 11 a.m.

To be fair, Hartford is no Baltimore or Chicago, in terms of regional population or convention business.

Still, it’s our baby. We’re expected to go see the thing, if we can afford it.

But don’t be late, or you won’t get in.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Business Journal. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Business Journal Archives at http://www.hartfordbusiness.com/archives.php.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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