LINCOLN PARK — The Chicago History Museum's plan to hike admission fees $3 hit a snag Wednesday when the Park District Board put off a vote on the matter.
The Park District's Board of Commissioners raised concerns about the museum's bid to hike fees twice within two years, with Vice President Avis LaVelle asking pointedly if the museum had a five-year plan or any long-term plan at all.
The board ultimately voted unanimously to defer the matter a month to give the museum a chance to make a better case for financial hardship.
Local resident John Wizgird pointed out during the public comment period that the $3 hike in admission fees across the board would constitute a 21-25 percent increase for Chicago residents and a 19-21 percent increase for all others.
Wizgird said the museum at 1601 N. Clark St. had pleaded that the cost of living had risen over the previous 10 years when it last raised admission fees in April 2016, but that it could hardly argue the same this time just 1½ years later.
Wizgird said Chicago students and seniors had paid $10 for admission as recently as March 2016, so the move to a $15 admission would constitute a 50 percent hike overall. Chicago adults would go from $12 to $17 over the same time span, a 41.7 percent increase. Non-resident seniors and students would see the same exact hike, and non-resident adults would go from $14 to $19, a 35.7 percent increase.
Museum Vice President Russell Lewis argued "some of our revenue areas have plateaued," and said the fee hike would raise $125,000 a year, needed to pay for utilities and maintenance.
Yet Commissioner Don Edwards said that didn't balance in the public's eye. He called the $3 fee hike "a big burden for the people who want to go to the museum," especially when weighed against the relatively paltry $125,000 to be gained, compared with the museum's annual revenues of just under $10 million.
The museum raised admission fees for Chicago residents 1½ years ago from $10 to $12 for students and seniors, and from $12 to $14 for adults, and sought an additional hike to $15 and $17. Non-residents went from $12 for students and seniors to $14, and from $14 for adults to $16, with an additional hike sought to $17 and $19.
"We feel it's competitive and on par with other museums locally and nationally," Lewis said. "We feel it's a strong value for the people of Chicago."
He also pointed out the museum was dropping admission fees for 13- and 14-year-olds by raising the age for free admission from 12 and younger to anyone under 15. He also pointed to the free Tuesdays for all Illinois residents, and the 78,000 students and teachers who get in free annually on field trips and the History Fair.
But Lewis said he couldn't estimate how many teenagers that would affect over a year. While commissioners generally agreed that, even after the proposed hike, the museum would remain competitively priced, they called for the museum to make a fuller financial accounting.
LaVelle called for the museum to present "a more thought-out piece of a long-term plan."
President Jesse Ruiz suggested the matter be postponed for a month, and the board unanimously agreed.
The fee hike was to take effect Jan. 1, so there's still time for it to pass before the end of the year.
The meeting took place at the Park District's newly renovated Theater on the Lake, 2401 N. Lake Shore Drive, with the board applauding the job done on the former open-air theater, created as a sanitarium almost 100 years ago.