K.C. station loses professional accreditation

Sunday, September 2, 2007

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Financial problems have cost Union Station its professional accreditation, which could hurt the station's efforts to attract future exhibits.

In a letter dated Thursday, the American Association of Museums said the station had made progress in many areas, but had used up most of its endowment and had no solid financial foundation.

The removal of accreditation comes just as Union Station is poised to end the year in the black for the first time since it was restored in 1999.

"We hoped that by showing [the accreditation commission] that we had cut our budget down and turned the corner with this year's projected profit that that would have been enough," Andi Udris, chief executive officer of Union Station, said Friday.

"They are smart enough to recognize that the only reason we turned the corner was that we had the Dead Sea Scrolls. They said you cannot expect to survive on these blockbusters."

Despite the denial of accreditation, the museum association praised Union Station.

"We applaud the improvements you have made to interpretive plans, programming and exhibits," wrote James A. Welu, chairman of the accreditation commission. He added that Union Station "has also made progress toward financial stability and regaining public trust."

Mike Haverty, Union Station board chairman, said the board had tried to operate as efficiently as possible to attract private donors, while reserving the option of seeking public money.

"We had to build the credibility back, and now that we've done that we've seen private foundations coming in to sponsor some things like the Dead Sea Scrolls," Haverty said. "We've got some indication from the private side that if we could also get some public funding, they might help in the future."

Udris said the loss of accreditation would not affect the station's affiliation with the Smithsonian Institution or its ability to acquire new large exhibits.

But he acknowledged that the Dead Sea Scrolls might not have come to Kansas City if Union Station had not been provisionally accredited at the time. And he acknowledged that the lapse of accreditation might make immediate fundraising efforts more difficult.

Union Station is currently trying to raise $4 million to renovate its sub-basement so it can present more and larger exhibits and boost its revenue stream.

Union Station can reapply for accreditation after one year, although officials said that would be pointless until it could show a track record of financial stability.

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