Bigger footprint: Dinosaur Journey looks to free up funds for expansion

Julia McHugh, the new curator of paleontology, stands above the exhibit area, left, and the lab, right, at Dinosaur Journey museum in Fruita. McHugh has plans to expand online access to museum collections and to create online educational content.

Fruita’s Dinosaur Journey museum is ready to evolve.

As a way to save money for future renovations, the agency is seeking relief from the city of Fruita on rent payments on the city-owned building at 550 Jurassic Court.

Peter Booth, executive director of the Museum of Western Colorado, has requested that Fruita cut in half the remainder of its rent for this year and eliminate rent, or place it at $1 a year, starting in 2015.

“Having additional resources will help us plan for expansions,” Booth said.

Booth said a plan and costs for future improvements at the dinosaur museum haven’t been formalized, but the organization in general would like to add 17,000 square feet to the museum’s 20,000-square-foot footprint. Museum officials would like to create space for traveling exhibits and be able to showcase more of the area’s dinosaur fossil finds.

Fruita Mayor Lori Buck said the city and council members are willing to look at reducing the rent in some way for the organization, but negotiations are ongoing.

Dinosaur Journey pays $57,600 a year on the building. The 20-year-old facility was constructed with a grant from the federal Economic Development Administration, and according to the terms of the agreement, Fruita was required to rent the building at market rate. Now that the loan on the building is paid off, Fruita officials can negotiate another kind of lease with Dinosaur Journey.

Since 2008, Fruita has used the rent payments to pay for some operational costs at the museum, Buck said. Also, the roughly $400,000 the museum has paid in rent on the building could go toward purchasing it outright if the museum wanted to buy it, Buck said. Fruita can’t immediately reduce the rent payment because those dollars have already been allocated, but councilors can work out an arrangement for next year, she said.

“We’ll definitely try to phase (rent) out in 2015,” she said.

The annual budget for the Museum of Western Colorado’s three museum sites and the Whitman Educational Center is $1.7 million. Booth said Dinosaur Journey sees the most visitors each year — between 40,000 and 50,000. In comparison, the other sites, Museum of the West, 462 Ute Ave., and Cross Orchards Historic Site, 3073 F Road, attract 10,000 to 15,000 visitors a year. Operations at Dinosaur Journey break even or place the nonprofit agency a bit in the black each year, Booth said.

Dinosaur Journey is finding itself in transition, with the John McConnell Math and Science Center, the Grand Valley Zoological Quest and the museum all working toward a shared educational campus at the site. The agencies recently met to complete a feasibility study to determine ways to collaborate.

Fruita has offered the Math and Science Center and the Grand Valley Zoological Quest free land near Dinosaur Journey to stimulate development, Buck said.

“We’re trying to help as much as we can,” she said. “We want Dinosaur Journey to expand as well.”


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