Newseum Sees Higher Attendance in First Year at Pennsylvania Avenue Location

The news museum has seen a jump in attendance since leaving Arlington.
The news museum has seen a jump in attendance since leaving Arlington. (Albert Vecerka - Esto - )
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By Jacqueline Trescott
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, April 10, 2009

In its first year, the sprawling Newseum on Pennsylvania Avenue firmly established its presence among Washington's many museums with 714,000 paid visitors and hundreds of guests at 450 private events.

The attendance figure is a significant increase over the 480,000 visitors who came to the museum's final year in its old location, in the Rosslyn neighborhood of Arlington.

"The museum has exceeded my expectations in so many ways," said Charles Overby, chairman and chief executive. "I always said I wanted the first year to surpass our best year in Arlington."

The Newseum, which opened a year ago tomorrow, has experienced some bumps. Its endowment declined by one-third, and Overby said that forced them to cut the budget from $40 million to $33 million and to reduce the staff. The museum added 100 people in the months leading up to the opening. "Operationally, we have learned the numbers we needed. We offered buyouts and had 30 people leave. Now we have 220 full-time employees," Overby said.

The Newseum moved from Arlington to Washington to increase its foot traffic, with the goal of educating visitors to the history of the news and the value of the First Amendment. Its exhibits range from the serious milestones of newsgathering to stations where people can do their own broadcast stand-ups. There are interactive features and big screens that show past news events -- and current news as it unfolds.

When the museum opened, the $20 adult admission charge caused some controversy. In the first months, officials broadened the ages for the children's admission fee but kept the $20 for adults. Of the entrance fee, Overby said: "We know a large group of people will not come because it is not their thing and they don't want to spend the money. But we don't receive any government tax money. We have a different operating principle."

The income streams for the Newseum include its admissions, facility rentals and gift shops, as well as the 135 apartments attached to the main building, and the high-end restaurant run by celebrity chef Wolfgang Puck. "The only bread line I have seen in Washington is the one waiting to get into the Source," Overby cracked.

In the future, he said, one of the challenges will be to attract people from outside the region. "For those who haven't come, there is a mystery about what is a Newseum," Overby said.

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