Kansas Aviation Museum board discussed bankruptcy, selling artifacts

The Kansas Aviation Museum, photographed on July 15, 2015, is struggling financially.
The Kansas Aviation Museum, photographed on July 15, 2015, is struggling financially. File photo

In the last three months, the Kansas Aviation Museum has cut staffing to one full-time position, reduced the time the museum is open to two days, and turned down the building’s heat.

In minutes from the museum’s Dec. 14 board meeting, the board discussed closing the museum, bankruptcy and the possible sale of artifacts.

It also discussed joining with the supporters of the recently restored B-29 Superfortress known as “Doc” and having two museum locations – one at Wichita Eisenhower National Airport with Doc, and the other at the current museum location, 3350 George Washington Blvd.

“We have offered assistance to them – either my assistance or my staff – to get the type of help they need to give them a plan to move forward,” said John D’Angelo, director of Wichita’s Arts and Culture Department.

But Richard Moore, president of the museum’s board and its interim director, said talk of the museum’s problems is overblown. He thinks it has a bright future.

“It is important for people to know KAM is very strong, healthy, and we are getting back on track,” Moore said Wednesday.

We are like the city and the state. We didn’t meet our budget, so we had to make some tough business decisions.

Richard Moore, interim director of the Kansas Aviation Museum

“We are like the city and the state,” he said. “We didn’t meet our budget, so we had to make some tough business decisions.”

Moore said conversations during museum board meetings about bankruptcy or other plans for the museum were just informal discussions.

“There are 50 different conversations taking place at any one time,” he said. “Everyone has their own opinion on what is best for the city, what is best for the museum.

“They have gotten a little louder and a little more frequent, but KAM is not moving. … We are focused on building KAM at our current location.”

The museum owes $183,000 to the city of Wichita for a Capital Improvement Program, which added heating and air conditioning to the building and made it handicapped compliant. The museum board has asked the city to allow the payment – due in February 2017 – to be deferred.

D’Angelo said the city plans to decline the museum’s request.

In board minutes from the December 2015 meeting, the museum board’s treasurer, Tyler Boss, reported that the museum was losing $25,000 to $30,000 a month. He told the board in June 2015 that the museum had sufficient cash to survive for six to nine months.

“With the continuing loss,” Boss told the board in December, according to the board’s minutes, “it does not really matter whether the museum owes the city $100,000 or $183,000 because it is simply a question of several months before the museum is out of money.”

The museum’s revenue dropped in 2015 to $392,296, down 28 percent from $543,791 in 2014, according to the museum audit. Contributions fell by nearly $60,000 between 2014 and 2015.

The drop in revenue pushed the museum even deeper in the hole. Its 2014 loss of $155,550 swelled to $274,556 in 2015, according to the museum’s audit.

According to minutes from the Jan. 18 board meeting, Moore told the board the museum had $150,000 in total cash available.

Last week, a news release from the museum announced it was looking for an executive director, its third in less than a year.

“This is an outstanding job opportunity for the great leader, fundraiser, events and business minded person,” the release said.

The new director’s position will be a salaried position, Moore said, with performance bonuses every quarter.

Low attendance

Moore said Wednesday the museum continues to book events, such as weddings, receptions and corporate meetings.

“Our calendar is filling up with weddings,” Moore said.

Seven hours in the atrium can be rented for $2,600, he said.

The Kansas Aviation Museum opened April 19, 1991, to showcase the state’s aviation history. The museum is housed in the former terminal for the Wichita Municipal Airport, constructed during the 1930s and 1940s. The building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The museum, when it was open during the week, averaged fewer than 20 paying visitors a day, according to an e-mail Moore sent the board Dec. 10. There were 44 a day on the weekends, with the museum receiving only 10,200 visitors a year.

In a Jan. 18 e-mail to the board, board member Tim Bonnell wrote: “We need to defer any payment to the city and get ourselves on our feet with existing cash, fund-raising and event activities. Defer paying them this for however long it takes. 1, 3 or 5 years.”

He also wrote that a new director needed to be hired.

“We need to use the available funds to Hire an Executive Director who has the ability to manage the museum and to raise funds,” Bonnell wrote. “The museum went through a period like this in the early 2000s and once we were able to hire a good Executive Director with a passion for KAM, things took off.”

Former director

Daniel Bateman was executive director before leaving the position three months ago after he, Moore and Bonnell had a conversation in which the two strongly encouraged him to leave, Bateman said.

Moore later told The Eagle that the synergy between Bateman and the museum board “was off.”

Bateman, a Colorado native, replaced Lon Smith, who announced his resignation in March. Smith had been the museum’s director for seven years and is now president of the Wichita Independent Business Association.

“I had an idea the board needed to be more active in fundraising and getting me introduced in the community to the right people,” Bateman said. “I told them when I was hired that I do not have a lot of connections in the aviation community in Wichita.

When I was hired, I was told the museum was fairly sound financially. It definitely was a surprise to see what was actually going on.

Daniel Bateman, former director of the Kansas Aviation Museum

“When I was hired, I was told the museum was fairly sound financially. It definitely was a surprise to see what was actually going on.”

Since Bateman’s departure, Moore has been leading the museum.

Bateman said he had actually suggested to the board that the museum needed to change its operating hours and eliminate staff in order to allow it the time and ability to raise money.

“It is sad … that Wichita is the Air Capital of the World,” Bateman said, “and there is a great display on the history of Wichita aviation. But there is no financial backing for the only museum in town that tells that story.”

Bateman left the museum in November after five months. He is now working as a passenger service agent for Simplicity.

What the city has to say

D’Angelo said that in the past when the city has assisted other museums – such as the Mid-America All-Indian Center and Old Cowtown Museum – it has done so with the acting museum board’s permission. He said no one from the Kansas Aviation Museum has asked for the city’s assistance.

“I have made offers to come to their board meetings and offers to sit down and plan together,” D’Angelo said. “But to date, they haven’t accepted that.

“We are not going to force help on anybody. That is not our role, nor should it be.”

City Council member James Clendenin said he was unaware the museum board had talked about bankruptcy or contemplated selling artifacts.

“That would be extremely unfortunate,” Clendenin said. “We met with them, and they had some concerns. It is very sad.”

Clendenin said the city helped the museum with renovations and expects to be repaid.

“We don’t want to force them to shut doors by demanding money that is owed,” he said, “but I have to balance that with taxpayer expectation.”

D’Angelo said there have been discussions about the B-29 Doc partnering with the Kansas Aviation Museum. He said having an exhibit with Doc and museum artifacts at Eisenhower airport would be challenging because the new airport was not designed with that in mind.

“It would be difficult in an active airport, especially with the new TSA (Transportation Safety Administration) requirements,” he said. “How do you do that? Put the artifacts in public or private areas behind the TSA agents?

“I’m not saying it can’t happen, but it wasn’t designed that way.”

Beccy Tanner: 316-268-6336, @beccytanner