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Neon Museum meets visitor projection in its first year — more than 60,000

Unlike the Mob Museum and the Springs Preserve, which both set unrealistic attendance expectations, the Neon Museum turned out to be spot on.

Early on, the estimate was 45,000 to 50,000 visitors a year. Later it was bumped to 60,000 a year.

In 2013, the first full year of operation, the museum and the Neon Boneyard Park pulled in 60,461 visitors. “It’s what I expected it to be,” said museum board Chairman Bill Marion.

The Neon Museum has been operating in the black since its official opening in October 2012, Marion told the Las Vegas City Council on Wednesday. “The good news is that we’re not asking you for anything,” the public relations company owner said.

The city has been a partner with the museum since its inception under former Las Vegas Mayor Jan Jones, who preceded the Goodman era which began in 1999. “She had the foresight to know this was an art form to be treasured,” Mayor Carolyn Goodman said.

“The museum has zero debt, and for that we have you to thank,” Marion told the council.

The idea of collecting former neon signs and displaying them in a Neon Boneyard and placing a few on Fremont Street gained momentum in 2005, when the shell-shaped entrance to the La Concha Motel was obtained, saving it from destruction. The hotel with the distinctive lobby was designed by renowned architect Paul Williams and built in 1961. In 2006 it was moved from the Strip to the current site at 770 Las Vegas Blvd. North

Memorable signs from the Stardust, the Moulin Rouge, the Aladdin and other properties are stored in the Neon Boneyard Park. There are 450 pieces representing 150 neon signs.

The museum initially was only open for pre-scheduled tours, but now it offers programs. Marion cited family programs including an astronomy session which was free to the public.

It has nine full-time and 20 part-time employees and 30 volunteers.

In 2013, it took in revenues of $1,956,903 and entertained 60,461 visitors. Eighty percent of the visitors were non residents and of that 80 percent, 25 percent were international visitors.

Photo shoots in the Boneyard have been popular with 247 shoots, and 48 special events were held there last year. Those events included weddings, corporate receptions and dinners, private receptions and dinners, and some people rent the Boneyard to shoot their wedding photos.

“The tours sell out well in advance,” Marion said. “We’ll do additional fundraising because we’d like to expand the collection and the programs.”

Nancy Deaner, director of the city’s Office of Cultural Affairs, said the idea of “saving our neon” was around since the 1980s but various community groups couldn’t handle the costs, including transporting the signs, and they didn’t know where to put them. “That’s when the city stepped up and brought resources that no one else could bring to the table.”

The city was the original creator of the Neon Museum, which now is an independent operation with its own nonprofit status, much like the Mob Museum.

The city leases the land to the museum for $1 a year.

Starting in 2007, the Las Vegas Centennial Commission contributed $1.1 million toward the construction project and another $800,000 federal grant from the National Scenic Byways program, according to Marion. “Then the city became the construction manager for the La Concha visitors center, and provided us with technical engineering and project manager.”

Ticket prices for day tours are $18 for general admission and $12 for seniors, students, active military, veterans and Nevada residents. At night, the tour prices are $25 for general admission and $22 for Nevada residents and those in the other categories.

A schedule of free family events is available at www.neonmuseum.org or by calling 702-387-6366.

Contact reporter Jane Ann Morrison at jmorrison@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0275.

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