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Kansas Sports Museum finds its home in Newton

A new location, cheaper rent and more exhibit space. Officials at the Kansas Sports Hall of Fame hope these things translate into success for their museum, which opened its new location at the Chisholm Trail Center in Newton on Monday.

Located just off I-135 between a furniture store and a clothing retailer, the Kansas Sports Museum's new location is much different than its previous home in Wichita's Old Town. Ted Hayes, the president of the Kansas Sports Hall of Fame, thinks that's a good thing.

"The location is just perfect," he said.

Hayes said increased accessibility is a major reason the museum will be successful at the new site. He hopes to bring more bus tours and school field trips to the museum, something he said was difficult to accomplish at the downtown location.

"This place is so easy to get in and out of compared to trying to negotiate Old Town and then trying to find a place to park," he said. "That was just a nightmare."

The Kansas Sports Museum is one of two locations that the Kansas Sports Hall of Fame plans to open this year.

A museum at the Wichita Boathouse is scheduled to open this summer and will house plaques and biographies of hall inductees along with a few exhibits. The museum in Newton is intended to be the primary home for the group's collection of jerseys, pictures, autographs and other memorabilia.

The Newton location provides the museum more space at a cheaper price. The new museum has 21,000 square feet for exhibits — the Old Town location had 17,000 square feet — and Hayes said his organization will pay 80 percent less for the leases at the Newton museum and the Boathouse combined than they did in Old Town.

Debra Mitchell, director of marketing for the Chisholm Trail Center, said her group pursued the museum to be an anchor tenant because it would help diversify the center and bring in a different crowd.

Being right off the highway will increase the museum's visibility, and Mitchell said she thinks it will draw people to the center who aren't only interested in shopping.

The expansive museum space is decorated with exhibits honoring a wide array of Kansas sports legends and teams. There's autographed Barry Sanders memorabilia and an entire gallery dedicated to University of Kansas basketball. Other exhibits feature things like high school teams, Olympians from Kansas and sporting achievements from the rest of the state's colleges.

Museum manager Harold Bechard estimated 90 percent of the memorabilia from the Old Town museum will be displayed in Newton. He said there are plans to rotate exhibits between the Newton museum and the Boathouse.

There is still work left to be done at the museum before it has its grand opening later this month. Many of the pictures and items need placards, and numerous white walls wait to be filled with items currently in storage.

Bechard admitted the museum is a work in progress, but he's convinced the new location will draw people in to learn about the state's sporting history.

"We're excited about getting the doors open," he said. "We have so many great athletes and teams here that a lot of people don't know about."

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