Tryon Palace officials worry Senate budget could bring shut-down

Tryon Palace officials worry Senate budget could bring shut-down

New Bern, NC – Tryon Palace is enjoying a surge in public attention with the opening in October of the North Carolina History Center.

"We earned last year $491,000 in ticket sales last fiscal year. With opening the History Center that has increased and I'm predicting by the end of June we've got nearly 11 months of actual earnings and one month of projection I'm predicting we'll be in the neighborhood of $650,000."

Kay Williams, the director at Tryon Palace. But $650,000 is a small percentage of what it takes to operate Tryon Palace. Their budget is in the $5 million range annually, of which last fiscal year $4.1 million came from an appropriation from North Carolina. When the state House approved it's version of the budget earlier this month it cut state funding to Tryon Palace by around $690,000 or about 16% of appropriations. That translated to about 18 lost positions from the 162 regional jobs a press release says the Palace "creates or impacts." But the state Senate proposal currently making the rounds has Kay Williams talking a shut down of nearly all operations.

"I think the first thing it means is we will not be open to the public. There'll be no tourism marketing and we're one of the lead tourism marketing functions for this area of N-C. It means there will not be things open for the public to do at Tryon Palace. It also means there would be few if any employees here."

Williams says the Senate's proposed two-year budget would cut funding to Tryon Palace by 36% in the fiscal year starting in about 5 weeks and then by nearly 89% for the second year of the budget plan. That's money Williams says has no obvious source of replacement.

"I am pretty good at squeezing a dollar to get the most value we can out of it but even I can't figure out how you make up $3.7 million with at best $800,000 a year. People say we could raise our ticket prices. We're at $20 for adults, $10 for children for everything there is to do here. I personally love Tryon Palace. I would pay $100 to come to Tryon Palace but I suspect I'm in the minority. I don't think most people would pay that and even that wouldn't cover it."

Under the current Senate proposal in the first year Williams says something would have to close and it might well be the part of the Palace which has spiked interest in the former home of the royal Colonial Governor.

"The likelihood is we would have to shut down the N-C History Center because it is a building with a great deal of technology. It's also a very popular attraction, it's rapidly become a very popular attraction but in many ways it may cost us more to operate than our simple historic buildings but we haven't done the work to figure that out. We do know we'll have to close something."

A Palace press release says the 140,000 people who visit annually create an economic impact to the region of over $41 million. But Williams will tell you that economic impact is not why the operations of the Palace need to be maintained.

"The reality is that we collect the cultural memory of our state, the historic memory. We collect objects, some of those objects have great value and have to be cared for and it requires attention and it requires meticulous concern for ensuring that objects that represent the history of this state survive to be enjoyed by future generations of North Carolinians, so part of our constituency is citizens who haven't even been born yet because we're caring for things that will be passed down to the future."

Kay Williams is the director of Tryon Palace in New Bern. I'm George Olsen.