The Austin, Minn., museum dedicated to the city’s legendary canned export is on the move. Hormel Foods Corp. has announced that it will build a new Spam Museum downtown, south of its current spot near corporate headquarters.
It’s just blocks away. But city leaders believe it will make a big difference.
Today’s visitors can exit Interstate 90, park next to the pork paradise, then pop back on the highway — passing little more than a Kwik Trip along the way, said Mayor Tom Stiehm. Once the museum opens on the 400 block of Main Street, those visitors might linger, stopping by shops and restaurants.
“It’s the biggest attraction we have,” Stiehm said. “And if we can use that attraction to get people to come downtown, that’s fantastic.”
The Spam Museum, which bills itself as “the world’s most comprehensive collection of spiced pork artifacts,” attracts tens of thousands of visitors each year. A Hormel spokesman declined to give a more specific figure.
Hormel officials say the move, announced Tuesday, is meant to boost Vision 2020, a city improvement effort funded partly by the Hormel Foundation. The company “hopes it will be a catalyst to both downtown Austin and to other Vision 2020 projects,” CEO Jeffrey Ettinger said in a news release.
In a January letter to Ettinger, Vision 2020 proposed relocating the museum — arguing that the museum’s visitors “would be transformational for downtown.”
“The trick is, we weren’t sure that Hormel Foods would agree with us on that,” said Laura Helle, director of vision creation for Vision 2020, which has volunteer committees working toward a host of goals, including upping traffic and filling vacancies downtown. “It’s going to be a major investment for them to start from scratch and build on the site.”
Construction on the new Spam Museum could start in late 2014 or early 2015, with an opening tentatively set for spring 2016.
Austin is looking to Le Mars, Iowa, for inspiration. Known as the “Ice Cream Capital of the World,” that city has long been home to Wells Enterprises Inc., makers of Blue Bunny ice cream. In 2010, the company announced that it would move its Blue Bunny Ice Cream Parlor and Museum from a spot along Hwys. 3 and 75 to a historic building in the downtown business district.
Visitors followed. Despite a location less convenient for passersby, the number of visitors increased.
“It’s the best thing that happened to our downtown,” said Mary Reynolds, Le Mars’ Main Street program manager. “Bringing that unbelievable building to its historic glory — it has helped us fill our storefronts.”
Before, the downtown counted nine empty storefronts. Now, there are two, Reynolds said.
Austin hopes for a similar resurgence. When Vision 2020 recently surveyed downtown businesses, “every single one wanted more retail,” Helle said. “And we’ll continue to work on that.
“I think that job is going to get easier when you have the Spam Museum generating traffic.”