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Mob Museum proving to be huge hit with tourists

The Mob Museum is proving it’s not the huge waste of tax dollars that skeptics foretold.

It’s making money and visitors are coming in droves.

Former mob-lawyer-turned-mayor Oscar Goodman’s wild hare estimate of 800,000 visitors a year is still a marijuana pipe dream. That number would mean the Mob Museum was drawing more than the Donald W. Reynolds Center for American Art and Portraiture in Washington, D.C., which drew 768,000 visits in the past year.

But at the rate they’re going, the revised estimate of 300,000 visitors a year is expected to be surpassed by the end of 2015, predicted Jonathan Ullman, executive director of the Mob Museum.

The museum opened Feb. 14, 2012.

In 2013, there were 222,000 visitors.

In 2014, there were 270,000.

At the better-than-projected rate for 2015, Ullman projects annual attendance will hit between 305,000 to 310,000. Those visitors are heavily weighted toward tourists — only 15 percent are locals.

Ullman attributes the “robust growth” to high-quality presentations and stronger marketing.

“We’re just excited about what the future holds, and we haven’t been open that long,” he said “The growth rate is dramatic and finances are sound.”

In 2014, the museum was nearly $419,000 in the black for the year, and that’s after making repayments back to the city which funded $38 million of the $42 million cost.

In 2002, much skepticism greeted Goodman’s idea with concerns this would be another waste of the taxpayers’ money. The numbers are proving the skeptics wrong.

Part of the draw is the public’s fascination with the subject, plus the fact it is presented well. Think back to the now-closed Mob Experience at the Tropicana, now just a memory, and realize that just using the word mob doesn’t guarantee success. (Full disclosure: Brenda Hengel, wife of R-J Editor Michael Hengel, works in marketing at the Mob Museum.)

Facility rentals are the biggest moneymakers, after admissions. There are special meetings held there, and 12 couples chose to wed there.

Peruse the website at www.TheMobMuseum.org and the schedule of what is planned and what has been held is impressive.

Some events are exclusively for the 1,000 members, some involve charges and some are free. The website clearly marks which are free with the entry fee and which involve charges.

The events range from serious to entertaining.

The latest display opened Tuesday and looks at the alleged corruption surrounding the Federation Internationale de Football Association (FIFA). Ullman said that for foreign visitors, the FIFA scandal “provides an especially resonant example of the different shapes organized crime can take.”

It’s not your daddy’s organized crime anymore, but then that era has not been forgotten.

Organized crime figures have become blabbermouth authors, writing about their evil exploits.

Mob enforcer John Alite is the next to present an author talk on Sept. 10. He will tell his tale of working for the Gotti mob family in the 1980s and 1990s. It’s free with the admission cost.

On Sept. 23, there’s a serious discussion by experts talking about fighting organized crime in the 21st century covering computer hackers, drug cartels and yes, the resurrection of the Mafia in Italy.

They say sex sells, well so does the ghoulish. As I strolled through the museum looking at new exhibits, like the one on the late Sheriff Ralph Lamb, there was a man taking selfies in front of the brick wall where the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre took place in 1929 in mob-versus-mob executions. Not exactly Christmas card material, but nevertheless, an interesting memento to show the folks back home.

Museum officials aren’t just waiting for customers to walk through the doors. “A Las Vegas Centennial Commission grant will help us fund an education outreach for schools, so we’ll be going off site to make presentations,” Ullman said.

I’m one of those people who has questioned the accuracy and omissions of the Mob Museum and the heavy reliance on Goodman’s sometimes faulty memory. I’m one of those who television reporter George Knapp said should go whack themselves in one of his more colorful columns.

The Mob Museum seems to be a financial and popular success.

While I have no plans to whack myself, I have to give credit where it’s due.

Goodman’s memory from his mob lawyer days may be iffy, but his idea is working.

Jane Ann Morrison’s column runs Thursdays. Leave messages for her at 702-383-0275 or email jmorrison@reviewjournal.com. Find her on Twitter: @janeannmorrison.

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