The coronavirus pandemic is having a huge economic impact on Alabama's biggest tourist attraction. The U.S. Space & Rocket Center is now at risk of closing down. The attraction will run out of money in October and is now in need of $1.5 million to stay operational.
"We are not just working to save a museum and kid attraction. We're working to save Huntsville's Statue of Liberty," Ben Chandler, Chairman of the U.S. Space & Rocket Center Education Foundation Board of Directors said.
Tuesday, officials with the U.S. Space & Rocket Center said closing the center would mean losing millions of dollars in tourism revenue.
"This is an incredibly important economic engine not just for the Huntsville, Madison community but for entire state. I think to the tune of $150 million worth of spending which obviously does a lot to support and strengthen our strong economy here," John Nerger, Chairman of the Alabama Space Science Exhibit Commission, said.
"People come to Space Camp and the parents stay at the local hotels and/or frequent the restaurants," Louis Ramirez, U.S. Space & Rocket Center CEO said.
About a year ago, the center said it was thriving as it celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon mission.
"It's actually stunning to us to see how quickly the tide can turn," said Nerger.
Christopher Key, A Space Camp alumnus Attendee and Counselor, said you can tell the difference from this time last year.
"It is more than night and day. The mood last summer both with the 50th anniversary plus the alumni festival weekend, it was a homecoming, it was a reunion," Key said.
Everyone said the museum and Space Camp are crucial to the growth we are seeing in the area.
The Space & Rocket Center says it usually generates about $120 million in annual revenue for the state. t's been the top paid tourist attraction for seven years straight. Huntsville and Madison County reached its highest tourism levels ever last year. More than 3.7 million visitors came to the area and brought in $1.6 billion to the local economy. The City of Huntsville says each household in the county saves $925 in taxes because of travel expenditures.
The center said it already laid off 90% of its employees because of the coronavirus pandemic.
"We have enough funds by bank loans to get us to October," Ramirez said.
Ramirez explained coronavirus forced the center to lose the majority of the revenue making it hard to keep the doors open.
Right now our line of credit is $3 million, which we have burned through $2.5 million. They've given us another lifeline of $1.25 million on top of that we've spent $2 million of our own money to get to this point," he said.
With NASA working to get man back on the moon, Nerger, said closing the museum and Space Camp will impact the support for NASA.
"Will it affect NASA in some way? Sadly, I think the answer is yes. While we don't belong to NASA, we provide, we educate the public and we educate the citizens who are needed to support NASA," he explained.
In the meantime, the center said it's hoping to receive some funding in the next CARES Act package from the government.
"We are still working hand in hand with the state and the local government the cities, to ask for help," Ramirez added.