The Lewis and Clark Confluence Tower has dominated the skyline of Hartford for years. Since opening in 2010, it has also overtaken the village’s budget, village officials say.
The tower, which marks the joining of the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers where the Lewis and Clark Expedition began in 1804, welcomes visitors for a $5 or $6 admission, less for children. They can take in the sight of the confluence from 50, 100 and 150-foot platforms.
But the attraction has become a monumental financial burden for the village. In seven years, it has cost the village about $350,000.
“We’re losing $60,000 a year on one project,” Hartford Mayor Jim Hickerson said. “The municipality’s only got 1,200 people. We have got to watch what we’re doing and not let the tower bankrupt the village.”
In the 2017 fiscal year from May 1, 2016 to April 30, 2017, the tower lost $47,617. On average, the tower’s losses exceed revenue each year by $59,000. Electricity to the tower costs $987 in September, while repairs added up to nearly $600 and salaries for three village employees cost $1,200.
“We can’t expect the people of Hartford to pay for something that’s losing money,” Hickerson said.
Hickerson, who took office in May and has owned property in Hartford since 1965, made significant changes to the tower’s operations in an effort to economize it.
Starting Monday, Oct. 16, the tower will close, opening through the winter months by request only. Guests who want to visit the historical site or look out from the 150-foot platform will need to place a call to Hartford City Hall, at 618-251-2680, to do so.
A Hartford board member, or the mayor himself, will give the tours.
Hickerson said before he was elected, the tower’s operations and staffing were outsourced, costing $58,000 in 2016. Now, all staffing and maintenance is done internally, saving the village $20,000 because city hall employees run tours and maintain the grounds.
Hickerson also shut off the many of the lights of the tower at night, cutting the electricity bill in half. He’s hoping the tower can make revenue in other ways, such as hosting weddings and more events.
They also cut down on advertising for the tower, spending only $67 since May compared to nearly $5,000 in the same time period in 2016.
“It’s a sad situation,” he said. “We have to make adjustments; we have to change something.”
Sue Budde, who has been Hartford’s treasurer for 20 years and lived in Hartford since 1978, said the financial problems of the village have been worsening.
“I’ve seen it bad, I’ve seen it good and then I’ve seen it keep going down,” she said. “Hopefully it can turn around. If it can just break even, that’s all we’re looking for.”
On Thursday, Hickerson, Budde and tour guide Mary Ann Warmack stood on the highest platform of the tower beneath gray October clouds. They each shared their own memories and historical tidbits of the tower.
“There she is. That point in the middle of the water?” Warmack said, pointing to the gray-blue water. “You can actually walk out to that point and put your foot in two rivers – the Mississippi and the Missouri – at the same time.”
Hickerson looked out over the railing and recalled when he visited the tower during construction before they put the safety rails in.
Budde admitted she’s scared of heights, but said the tower makes for a beautiful view.
Hickerson said village officials will review finances in April. He said if the tower still poses a financial burden for the village, they will revisit the problem.
“At my point, I’m 72 years old; I just want to do what’s right,” he said, adding that he has only heard positive reactions in the village to the tower’s changes.
The Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center, a museum also in Hartford but separate from the tower, will remain open as usual throughout the winter.
For more information on the tower or to request a tour, call the village at 618-251-2680.