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Museum reports high traffic

The Austin City Council heard "good news" Monday night at its regular meeting.

It came from Shawn Redford.

The director of the Hormel Foods Corporation's SPAM Museum along North Main Street in Austin and archivist for the company reported on the first year of operation for the museum.

According to Radford, the museum has hosted more than 94,000 visitors since opening in September 2001.

"The visitors have come from all 50 states in America and 14 foreign countries," she told Austin Mayor Bonnie Rietz and council members, meeting in regular session Monday night at Austin Municipal Building.

Radford credited the colorful billboards along freeways accessing the city with helping spur interest among tourists to make Austin a destination for their travels.

Also, the Minnesota Office of Tourism and Triple A automobile company are among the agencies honoring the SPAM Jam celebration and SPAM Museum as top attractions to visit.

Last June, crowds of more than 30,000 people attended the SPAM Jam held along North Main Street in Austin for the first time to help inaugurate the new museum's grand opening.

"We also enjoy a very good partnership with the Austin Convention and Visitors Bureau," Radford said, adding the two work in tandem to promote Austin.

Rietz was impressed and extended her appreciation to Radford for her report and for the positive economic impact the museum makes on the city.

Also impressed was Dick Chaffee, At-Large council member and chairman of the council's finance/personnel committee. "When I think of that old dilapidated building along North Main Street and what has happened there, I think it is a wonderful addition to the city of Austin that we can all enjoy," said Chaffee.

The city created a Tax Increment Finance district along North Main Street, where the SPAM Museum was developed in a former Kmart store building.

Across North Main Street is Austin Packaging Company, which is doing business in a formerly abandoned Tempo shopping center building.

Other businesses in the area, including Nicol's North Main Texaco station have also enhanced their properties.

Another major improvement along North Main Street was the city of Austin's decision to install a sidewalk on the west side leading to the museum.

Decorative street lighting and hanging baskets of petunias (in season) plus the nearby Horace Austin Park with its popular Mill Pond Pathway have helped the transformation of North Main Street.

According to Radford, the museum employs 32 workers including its gift center operation.

Making an application

Dave Cole, co-chair of the "Preserving A Legacy," fund-drive for the Jay C. Hormel Nature Center, won the council's vote of approval to make another grant application on behalf of the city.

The Friends of the Jay C. Hormel Nature Center are attempting to raise $750,000 to acquire an additional 210 acres of land adjacent to the Nature Center.

The purposes of the largest land acquisition in the history of the Nature Center is to provide a wildlife habitat and provide additional environmental education opportunities.

According to Cole, the application will be made to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

A year ago, Gov. Jesse Ventura vetoed a similar grant application's funding.

According to Cole, the fund-raiser has raised $140,000 to date on its own.

Dennis Maschka, director of the Austin Parks, Recreation and Forestry Department, which operates the city-owned Nature Center, encouraged the reapplication.

Gloria Nordin, 3rd Ward, made the motion.

Wayne P. Goodnature, 1st Ward, seconded it. All seven council members voted "Aye."

Cole said the anticipated grant funding would help the Friends' fund-raising efforts immensely, but stopped short of predicting success for the application the second time around. "We are hopeful," he said.

Lee Bonorden can be contacted at 434-2232 or by e-mail at lee.bonorden@austindailyherald.com