Tough economic times have caught up with Clark Planetarium, which is going to raise the price of admission by $1 a ticket on Oct. 1.
The Salt Lake County Council signed off on the increase this week, with council members praising the planetarium for enriching the community through its IMAX documentaries, science programs and cosmic light shows. Evening shows soon will cost $9 for an adult and $7 for a child. Matinees will be $7.
"I remember going to Hansen Planetarium as a kid," said Council Chairman David Wilde, referring to the current planetarium's predecessor facility a few blocks away on State Street in downtown Salt Lake City. "I'd hate to think of my grandkids not being able to go to the planetarium. The county needs to support this."
Added Councilman Steve DeBry, also citing memories of childhood visits: "The planetarium is iconic in this area. We need to do all we can. It's a great facility."
He also joked that the best way to generate more revenue would be to stage more laser light shows to the music of the Rolling Stones.
A division of county government, the planetarium is not hurting because attendance is down, said director Seth Jarvis. Concessions and property taxes are the main culprits. Too many people buy their drinks and popcorn at the Megaplex Theaters adjacent to Clark Planetarium in The Gateway, then take them into the planetarium, said Jarvis.
That has cut drastically into concessions revenue, which is more valuable to entertainment facilities than ticket income, he added, noting that planetarium officials are negotiating with Megaplex to restructure their contract on concessions.
Property taxes also come into play, Jarvis said, because the planetarium has to help pay off a bond issued by the county to build the facility, which opened in 2003 at the southwest corner of 400 West and 100 South. At that time, tickets cost $7 for adults and $4 for children and matinees.
The planetarium's debt must be paid off with property tax revenues, he said, but those have been fairly static because the council has refused to increase that tax.
While planetarium officials believe there will be some decline in attendance because of the higher admission fee, Jarvis said they are projecting the facility still will take in an additional $26,000 a year.
Along with a recent $275,000 reduction in operating expenses, the planetarium should be able to make ends meet. But "it was painful, painful, painful," he said. "We don't want to do that again."
Carol DeCaria, the planetarium's fiscal manager, said the fee increase will not apply to discount-price tickets provided to thousands of elementary school students annually.