Page 6 of 7
Until the Port Authority of Kansas City proposed building an aquarium west of Berkley Riverfront Park that would incorporate the Arabia's exhibits, the Arabia seemed destined for a new home in Parkville. Hawley and his family co-owners, hoping to keep the museum closer to home, had talked with a nonprofit in Independence and with Union Station.
"The 100,000 or 150,000 [people] we bring in every year isn't going to solve their problems," Hawley says of Union Station. "Andy's got such a tough time just heating and cooling that place. Those numbers don't mean much."
But Hawley has a pretty good idea where to find another lost ship, and if he's right, he says, he's three years away from expanding the attraction and doubling his attendance.
"If we find that boat, I've got no doubt our attendance is going to go to 250,000 at least. And under those numbers, all of a sudden, we go a long way toward solving Union Station's financial woes."
But it's not likely the Arabia will ever move to Union Station, partly because there's not a good location above the lower levels that would accommodate the boat's artifacts. Hawley's last meeting with Union Station officials was close to two years ago. He pitched the idea of bringing in some type of plane to add to the boat artifacts and Union Station's existing train memorabilia to create a broader transportation exhibit. Hawley and his partners couldn't reach a deal with Union Station or the Independence group because no one would agree to keep the collection together.
"We did talk to Andi. It was shortly after he started there," Hawley says. "And, like the group in Independence, he wanted to sell off artifacts if he had a bad year. That was written into the contract. We couldn't believe it. We did get pretty firm with him, and he did strike it out of the deal."
By that time, however, Hawley didn't trust Union Station.
"I think Andi's doing a good job down there," Hawley says. "But it ruined our faith in them being good stewards of this collection."
It's late August, and there are two weeks left until the end of Bodies Revealed. A pair of women come up the escalator, having just finished the tour, and the volunteer watching the gate is standing, hands folded across her belly, waiting for someone to approach.
Upstairs from the entrance of the exhibit, Science City is open and waiting for visitors. The ticket taker sits at the gate, slumped forward with the sports page of The Kansas City Star laid across his knees.
Today there are no kids on school field trips. Elderly couples escort the few children who are present.
Waiting for the elevator, another woman old enough to draw Social Security admonishes the two boys she's with to have more fun. "School starts soon, then there won't be any more days of fun like this," she says. "When I was your age, I would've been on this like stink on a bug."
At the Dino Lab, a little boy slides his hands over pictures of the world's original dinosaur researchers. "Wow!" he exclaims. "They're all dead!"
The miniature golf course is empty, as are the echoing caves. A white-haired woman waits next to a plastic sewer pipe in the Public Works wing of the exhibit, listening for a boy who has crawled a dozen feet back into the tubing. The chairs in the Periodic Table exhibit are empty.