By this time next year, Patriots Point's mission to become a high-tech visitor attraction could be nearly complete.
The board of the Mount Pleasant naval and maritime museum approved a $12 million budget Friday for the next financial period that begins July 1. That's roughly 26 percent more, or $2.5 million, than it budgeted for this fiscal year, which ends June 30.
The extra money will be used to fund upgrades to its exhibits, more aggressive marketing campaigns and maintenance of its two World War II-era ships, the aircraft carrier Yorktown and the destroyer Laffey.
Executive Director Mac Burdette said the additional funds for the next period came from a variety of sources, including the $2 hike in admission prices that went into effect in April.
"We also are expecting about a 10 percent increase in ticket sales as well, and it's also from increases in food services, event rentals and the overnight camping. It's all of the above," Burdette said.
Plus, Patriots Point expects that by the end of next week, it will already have met the goal set out in a three-year plan in 2012 to attract 260,000 paying visitors per year by July 2016. The maritime museum has adopted a new three-year goal to sell 300,000 tickets by July 2018.
"Basically, that gives us $1.6 million extra on ticket sales per year. That's a big deal," said Chairman Ray Chandler.
"In order to do that, you've got to improve the product and promote the product," Burdette added.
Over the next year, the museum will launch at least seven new projects to upgrade exhibits with interactive features.
The first to re-emerge is the "Apollo 8 Adventure," which has transformed the reproduction of the Apollo 8 capsule aboard the Yorktown into a virtual reality apparatus that simulates a launch into space. In December 1968, Apollo 8 was the first human spaceflight mission to orbit the moon. When it returned to Earth, the Yorktown recovered the spacecraft and its astronauts.
Burdette said the updated exhibit could be unveiled as soon as next month.
Construction is also going to begin in the next few weeks on a new dining area on the carrier, which is part of the museum's plan to expand its food services over the next year.
Other upgrade projects include a remake of the engine room and a redesigned Vietnam War exhibit, which broke ground in April.
The Smokey Stover theater aboard the Yorktown is another target for improvements. A small portion of the budget will be used to hire a consultant to help come up with a new concept for the theater, and an architect will be hired to draft plans for its redevelopment, Burdette said.
He added that he's confident the new experiences at Patriots Point will boost revenue to an all-time high by next July.
"Assuming our projections are accurate, we will cross $11 million in revenue for the first time in the history of Patriots Point," he said.
The budget's capital improvements include funds for the remaining $300,000 to pay off the structural assessment of the Yorktown, an analysis that will help the museum identify how many repairs the aging ship will need. The museum will then be able to set up a 15-year plan to restore the ship, Burdette said.
As for its debt, Patriots Point has another year of forbearance until the board must make payments on the $9.2 million loan it borrowed several years ago from the state to repair the Laffey.
"When it's time to deal with the loan, we'll deal with the loan," Burdette said. "Right now, my focus and the board's focus is doing positive things to make more money for this museum and to put us in a position so that we can begin the long-term process of restoring two big warships."
Reach Abigail Darlington at 937-5906 and follow her on Twitter @A_Big_Gail
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