ConsultEcon Management & Economic Insight


January 28, 2021

Right-Sizing Your Cultural Facility
Proper market size planning is key to success

Written by: Robert Brais, Vice President, ConsultEcon, Inc.

Central to planning a new cultural facility or expansion is determining how much space to build and how much parking to provide. But without market and economic analysis, the “right size” facility might not be achieved.

A cultural facility such as a museum must be big enough to contain attractive content, visitor amenities, and back of house, as well as enough space to handle the throughput of visitors on a busy day. But building too large a museum comes with risks such as increases in initial capital costs and carrying costs that are too high for economic sustainability. Further, a museum that is too big will feel empty most of the time.

I’ve witnessed a plethora of planning strategies working with hundreds of museums over 25+ years. While facility sizing typically considers site size, available funding, zoning, land use considerations and, of course, program needs; from there many approaches are employed. Many institutions start their planning with few constraints -- “Let’s just blue sky!” Some go directly to a solution (i.e. no planning). Others improve their potential for success with a more rigorous approach based on detailed program plans, funding analysis, and cost parameters; while others employ an alternatives process, establishing and evaluating alternative solutions to a new or expansion project.

Regardless of approach, an important but often overlooked consideration in facility planning is the market right-sizing part of the process. This analysis uses projected attendance, attendance patterns by season and by day of the week, and the way that visitors will use the space, to test museum visitation capacity and space occupancy as additional critical input when programming and designing the museum. Then, balance market size with other factors including operating costs.

Starting your planning with these market-based data is critical to achieving the “right-sized” museum and in turn a high level of visitor satisfaction and economic sustainability.