Cincinnati Freedom Center's outlook improves

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CINCINNATI (AP) -- A museum merger has meant a brighter outlook for the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center.

The long-struggling museum and information center on Cincinnati's riverfront united in July with the Cincinnati Museum Center. That has helped save money on shared operating costs, and the center also has seen more community and outside support.

The Cincinnati Enquirer reports (http://cin.ci/WlVkBr ) that attendance is up, finances are solid, and the center is now looking at plans for improvements and expansion.

"The community really rallied around us," said Kim Robinson, the executive director.

More than a dozen companies helped out with donated or deeply discounted services, including lending accountants, architects, marketers and others.

"People really wanted to help this place," said Maria Beatriz Rodriguez, a Procter & Gamble Co. executive loaned by the Cincinnati-based consumer products company to be the Freedom Center's chief growth officer.

Combining finance, human resources, information technology and visitor services saved some $570,000, while job cuts meant another $340,000. All together, some $1.3 million in savings is projected from the merger, after a $1.5 million budget shortfall a year ago had led to dire predictions that the center might have to close.

The merger has also helped finances for the Cincinnati Museum Center, which includes arts, cultural and historical organizations at the Cincinnati Union Terminal.

Projections for the last six months of 2012 are that Freedom Center attendance will run 5.4 percent higher than the same period a year ago, growing to 40,690 for the six months.

The Freedom Center has focused on improving interaction with guests, and it also is looking at more improvements and new uses for the building.

Among possibilities are a major restaurant and showing theater offerings on outside walls. There could be enhanced exhibits with more storytelling and music.

The center is also expanding its international brand that links the story of the 19th century battle against slavery by African-Americans to contemporary global slavery and human trafficking. One example is a documentary "Journey to Freedom" that was co-produced with the U.S. State Department to call attention to forced labor and sex trafficking.