Springfield's historic sites see decline in visitors despite increase in tourism statewide



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SPRINGFIELD, Illinois — Despite an increase in tourism across Illinois last year, most of the historic sites in Springfield saw a decline in attendance during the first half of this year.

A record 109.4 million domestic and international visitors traveled to the state last year, an increase of 3.5 percent from 2013, according to figures released this week by the Illinois Office of Tourism as the agency makes its annual four day, 12-stop tour around Illinois.

And statewide tourism numbers for 2015 are off to a good start, but there's a significant amount of uncertainty caused by the state budget deadlock, according to Office of Tourism Director Cory Jobe.

"I want to be sure to address the elephant in the room," Jobe said an event Tuesday at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum. "It's no secret that significant financial challenges lie ahead for Illinois and state agencies. We don't yet know what the scale of those challenges will be, but we do know that, no matter what, the governor will find the best use of resources and will think creatively in pushing Illinois tourism forward."

Over the first six months of 2015, all but two of Springfield's historic sites saw reductions in attendance. Fewer people visited those sites compared to the same period last year because of the wet start to summer tourism season, according to local tourism officials, as well as reduced hours at the sites due to state budget cuts, the State Journal Register (http://bit.ly/1MVbImp ) reported.

"The difference is largely the reduced schedule at historic sites," Illinois Historic Preservation Agency spokesman Chris Wills wrote in an email. "For the first half of last year, they followed the regular schedule of being open either five days a week or seven. Now, most sites are open only four or five days."

Notably the Lincoln Tomb saw an 18.1 percent drop and the Vachel Lindsay Home saw an 83.7 percent drop.

The two exceptions to the decline in tourism numbers so far this year are the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, which recently held a series of 10th anniversary celebrations, and the Abraham Lincoln Home National Historic Site, which saw an 8 percent increase in visitors for January through June compared to last year.

"You had the 10th anniversary of the presidential museum," Lincoln Home Superintendent Dale Phillips said Tuesday. "You have another generation coming to the museum. We also had the 150th anniversary of the Civil War. You can't prove there's a direct connection to the special events, but I would like to think there was."

Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner's proposed budget for the current fiscal year, which began July 1, includes $42 million for tourism promotion, an $8.4 million cut from the previous fiscal year.

But Jobe said he isn't worried because his office has faced budget cuts before and Illinois was able to remain one of the nation's top tourism destinations.

"This isn't the first time this has happened," he said. "We're eventually going to get a budget. This is going to sort its way out."


Information from: The State Journal-Register, http://www.sj-r.com

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