The Hannibal Convention and Visitors Bureau is not only responsible for promoting the city’s various tourist attractions, it now finds itself back in charge of one – the Molly Brown Birthplace and Museum.
For the past three years Margaret "Molly Brown" Tobin’s childhood home, located just south of Mark Twain Avenue at the intersection of Butler Street and Denkler Alley, has been under the management of the Hannibal History Museum Foundation (HHMF).
"The Hannibal History Museum Foundation came to the city several years ago with an offer for managing the Molly Brown House," said Gail Bryant, director of the Hannibal Convention and Visitors Bureau (HCVB). "As the Hannibal History Museum interprets non-Mark Twain related Hannibal history, including Molly Brown, Jake Beckley and other famous Hannibalians, the proposal was accepted."
The fact the HCVB would again be responsible for the property did not come as a surprise. According to Bryant, the HHMF advised her "several months ago" it was not interested in renewing what was termed a "vendor agreement" between the city and Ken and Lisa Marks, representing the HHMF, and their fiscal agent, the Marion County Historical Society, when the City Council approved it in January 2014.
Bryant, who reported the change of responsibility to the HCVB Board at its April 18 meeting, reports no attempt has been made to find another management partner to run the attraction.
"At this time, that has not been discussed," she said.
Bryant acknowledges that running the Molly Brown Home will "have some impact" on the HCVB.
Impact on HCVB
"The Hannibal CVB will again be in charge of staffing, marketing, maintenance, utilities and other cost associated with general upkeep," she said. "Admission costs will be used to help offset these expenses."
While it is not known if the Molly Brown site was a money maker when operated by the HHMF the last three years, it was a financial drain on the HCVB after the city accepted responsibility for the property. Bryant estimated at the Council’s Oct. 15, 2013, meeting that the attraction had lost approximately $2,000 that year.
Bryant says the value of the attraction cannot be judged solely by the number of visitors it attracts.
"While the home has a modest amount of visitors, those visitors are avid Molly Brown and Titanic history fans. They will travel hours out of their way, or make a special trip for the sole purpose of seeing the home," she said, adding the community is fortunate to have it as an attraction. "The Molly Brown Birthplace and Museum is a piece of not only Hannibal’s history, but America’s history."
The Molly Brown House could see a bump in attendance this summer, according to Bryant.
"Plans are underway to celebrate Margaret ‘Molly Brown’ Tobin’s 150th birthday in July," she said.
Despite coming under new management, no wholesale changes are planned to the displays.
"The exhibits in the Molly Brown Birthplace and Museum do an excellent job of interpreting her early years in Hannibal, as well as the disaster that made her famous. There is also a guided portion of the tour, and these have worked well for visitors in the past. We are keeping this popular experience for visitors," said Bryant.
While the attraction’s operating season will continue to be from Memorial Day through Labor Day, its hours of operation will be revised.
"Because of data collected over the last five years, we will be changing the hours of the museum. It will be open Fridays and Saturdays, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.," said Bryant.
The Molly Brown House was donated to the city by Terrell and Vicki Dempsey in August 2007. The Dempseys bought the property in 1998 and spent an estimated $100,000 fixing it up.
After being open for a short time in May 2010, the home was closed due to water issues, which reportedly had plagued the home since it was built in the early 1800s.
The City Council ordered that the work necessary to have the attraction reopened by Memorial Day 2011 be undertaken. The Council decreed that the bulk of the repair costs come from the budget of the HCVB, which until that point had stressed its mission was promoting attractions, not running one.
Reach reporter Danny Henley at firstname.lastname@example.org