Museum hits 300,000 visitor mark
By Ken Stickney
Tom Neal was hoping that Family Day at the Museum of the Gulf Coast, a popular event, would help push all-time attendance at the Port Arthur landmark to more than 300,000 visitors this weekend.
Not to worry.
The museum enjoyed brisk business Thursday, the 48th anniversary of Janis Joplin’s death, and a dad-and-daughter combo marched through the door at 11a.m. Friday to become all-time visitors No. 300,000 and 300,001 since the museum opened in 1994.
Neal, museum director, said Sgt. 1st Class-E7 Stephen Preu, stationed at JFK Special Warfare Center School at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, was enjoying a fall break getaway to Texas with his daughter, Stephanie, a second-grader in Leesville, Louisiana when they noticed the billboard near Highway 62. They’d found the museum website before they started their journey west, and headed south toward Bridge City and Port Arthur.
“It kind of snuck up on us a little bit,” Neal said Friday of the 300,000 benchmark. “We were doing our numbers last month and started noticing it.
“The day before yesterday, we realized how close we were.”
Museum attendance has been tracking ahead of every year since 2011, with the exception of 2014. Neal said expanded museum offerings have generated the additional traffic.
The honored visitors, who were continuing their westward journey Friday afternoon, said they enjoyed the Janis Joplin exhibit especially, although Sgt. Preu said as a history buff, he also enjoyed the energy exhibits. The museum gave them T-shirts and other small gifts to mark their visit.
“It’s a good milestone,” Neal said. “We’ve seen our attendance grow exponentially this year. Local people are finding us. They come in and are blown away. Memberships are way up.
“All along we’ve had support from outside the area, with visitors from an average of 20 different countries and 33-40 states every month.”
Dr. W. Sam Monroe, president of the Port Arthur Historical Society, which oversees the museum, said reaching the milestone provides proof that the museum generates business activity here, with people buying food, gas and lodging.
“This is evidence we do participate in the development of tourism in this area,” he said. “We do draw people off Interstate 10 and into the community.”
Neal said museum staff members hardly have time to celebrate and relax, as the museum prepared for Family Fun Day from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday. Features at the admission-free event include two performances by Sonny “The Birdman” Carlin, face painting, and an “up-close and personal” visit by Stable Spirit horses.
The museum is located at 700 Procter St. in downtown Port Arthur. Access to the museum is on the Fourth Street side of the building.