This is the final in a series of stories, looking back at some of the stories that made headlines in 2014 – and seeing how things played out.
After years of fundraising delays, the South Carolina State Museum opened its new observatory, planetarium and 4-D theater on Aug. 16.
The massive, $23 million project was truly transformational for the 26-year-old museum. It expanded the museum’s footprint in the historic Columbia Mill building, with a grand entrance and the fourth-floor observatory replacing what had been offices of other state agencies. The 25,000-square-foot planetarium building was tacked onto the east end of the old building. Special seats with added effects such as air blasts, rumblers and misters transformed a standard theater into a 4-D experience.
The changes began in 1998, with the announcement of a project that would include an observatory, planetarium and IMAX theater. Fund-raising challenges and the recession put the project on hold, which in the end might have been a positive. The 4-D theater was much less expensive to build and will be much less expensive to operate.
The entire project opened to rave reviews, with huge crowds on opening day.
More than 45,000 guests have visited the museum since Aug. 16, an increase of 44 percent over the same period last year. Operational revenue has increased by 81 percent as people buy separate tickets for the planetarium and 4-D theater shows.
The updates are enticing people to buy more annual passes. Membership revenue has increased 316 percent over the same period last year.
When the museum opened for International Observe the Moon Night on Sept. 6, more than 500 people showed up despite the competition from a University of South Carolina football game that night. Attendance at the annual Fall Festival and Pickin’ Party in September was the highest ever, as was attendance during the Thanksgiving weekend.
“We’re amazed by the public’s response to our new facility and are thrilled to have re-energized the museum-going experience,” said Willie Calloway, the museum’s executive director.