Spam Museum already a huge boost for Austin

Published 5:47 pm Sunday, July 31, 2016

By Greg Siems

Vision 2020 director

By the time you’re reading this, the long week of festivities celebrating Hormel Foods’ 125th anniversary will be over. The Spam Museum will have received its official, long-awaited grand opening, and everyone will have enjoyed the great food, tunes, and fireworks this past Friday. I know I speak for everyone in Austin when I say thank you, Hormel, for putting on these extraordinary events.

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I’d like to talk a little more about the new museum, specifically its impact on Downtown Austin and, really, the entire community. There’s been speculation for years — ever since the location was chosen, the plans drawn up, and construction commenced — about what kind of difference the Museum would make in its new abode.

You’ve heard the story before: the old museum was already a huge tourist draw, welcoming tens of thousands of visitors through its doors each year. Relatively few, however, took the time to venture down Main Street (or any other street, for that matter) to see what else Austin has to offer. They were back on the interstate and gone before you knew they were even here.

Contrast that situation to today, and the changes are striking. My office is just across the street from the new museum, and every time I look outside there are all sorts of people milling about downtown. Campers and RVs and cars with strange license plates litter our parking stalls. Even long-term residents of Austin I’ve talked to are finding themselves downtown more often and rediscovering our great local shops and restaurants.

As of last week, over 44,000 people have passed through the new museum’s doors. Think about that — that’s nearly double the population of Austin in just three months! It’s hard to imagine any other attraction replicating that amount of traffic, and it’s already provided a very real boost to the local economy. For example, compared to last June, retail sales at the Austin ArtWorks center have doubled. At least four businesses I know of have expanded their hours, particularly on Sundays, to capture the increased demand for their goods and services. It seems like every week I hear that a new business is opening or in the works.

It’s not often that developments of any kind in a community our size have that kind of impact. One of Vision 2020’s goals from the beginning, thanks to the suggestions and votes of the citizens of Austin, has been to turn downtown Austin into a destination point. The volunteers on the Downtown committee have worked tirelessly for years to turn this vision into reality, and they lobbied hard to get the new museum downtown.

To everyone involved in that process — Hormel employees, elected city officials, everyday citizens and volunteers — who made this happen: thank you. You all saw the potential of this updated facility in its new location, and turned what was a fire-stricken empty lot into one of the biggest success stories Austin has seen in some time.

Add this to the recent Hormel Institute expansion, the redevelopment of Oak Park Mall, improvements at the Jay C. Hormel Nature Center and many other projects, and you truly get a sense of a community that’s on the move. We’re not waiting for things to happen to us, or focusing on what holds us back. We are, rather, forging ahead to a brighter future, together, and the SPAM Museum is but one example of that.

I hope you’ll join me in the efforts to keep this momentum going. A lot of other great things are in the works at Vision 2020, from a new Community Recreation Center to a city-wide fiber optic broadband network and everything in between. Whether you give your time to Vision 2020 projects or any of the other great things happening in Austin, you are making a difference and are a part of something big. We as a community are growing richer every day, and not just economically. Our cultural diversity, our educational excellence, our social ties are getting stronger all the time, and I hope you feel as lucky as I do to be a part of it.