By Susan Redden
CARTHAGE, Mo. — The Fountain of Angels and some other parts of Precious Moments Inspiration Park are being closed and are not expected to open next season.
With the closing, the park will be focusing more on “its core operations,” including the chapel and visitors’ center, according to Dan Huwel, who heads the Precious Moments family of companies.
The action also will close the wedding island, the recreational vehicle park and Super Sam’s Restaurant.
Royal Delights restaurant will remain open.
Eleven full-time workers will lose their jobs, along with about 29 part-time workers “who would have been starting a seasonal layoff at this time,” said Huwel.
The park will continue to employ 40 people.
The closing will not affect PMI and PMC, which are parts of a distribution operation that support the Precious Moments line of figurines originated by park founder Sam Butcher. Those operations employ 130 people.
Huwel said the actions are in response to changes in the number of visitors at the park, particularly the decline in tour-bus traffic in the past several years.
Park attendance is down only about 1 percent, from 205,476 visitors through 2005, compared to 203,053 through Thursday in 2006.
But the number of motor-coach tours had dropped about 21 percent in the last year, while the number of tickets sold at the Fountain of Angels had declined by about 15 percent, according to information provided by the park.
“Our traffic historically consisted of bus tours and people driving in cars. The people in bus tours wanted sit-down meals and booked tickets to the Fountain of Angels,” Huwel said. “Those in cars wander the grounds, stop at the chapel and gift shop and leave. To eat, they would either want to just get a sandwich, or choose to go someplace else.”
In response to the changing patterns, Huwel said Precious Moments is shifting operations “to mark sure the parts of the park that are visited most often are well-maintained and supported.”
He said full-time positions being eliminated included workers at the Fountain of Angels, the wedding island, some grounds-crew workers, and staff in a hospitality group who served bus tours.
He said a small number of events had been booked at the wedding island and “most likely would be canceled.”
Parts of the business that support sales of Precious Moments figurines have increased in the past year and officials expect that to continue.
A large tract of land surrounding Precious Moments is owned by the firm or related interests, and Huwel said he expects that some of that property will eventually be sold off.
He noted much of that land has been annexed into Carthage. Growth in Carthage is headed toward Precious Moments, including the new McCune-Brooks Hospital that is on property that had been owned by the park.
“We anticipate that over a number of years, the area around us will continue to develop,” he said. “With that, our intention is to preserve our core area and the core experience of Precious Moments.”
The Precious Moments Chapel opened early in 1987 and the visitor count at the chapel was reported at more than 400,000 in 2001. The Fountain of Angels opened in 1997 and was enclosed in 1999 so that shows could be expanded.
By Susan Redden
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