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Kentucky basketball museum closes in face of financial woes

The University of Kentucky Basketball Museum in Lexington has closed its doors, according to media reports in Kentucky.

The museum, which was located in the Lexington Center adjacent to Rupp Arena, can no longer support itself financially, executive director Van Florence said.

According to its Web site, the museum featured interactive exhibits giving fans the chance to make a radio call of a great UK moment, or play "virtual one-on-one" hoops against a favorite Wildcat.

According to reports, some of the museum's exhibits will likely reappear in a free setting before the 2008-09 season begins -- possibly in the Craft Center, Kentucky's new on-campus practice facility.

"I don't think it would be a museum, per se. It would be a sort of Walk of Fame, a public display in common areas that everyone could enjoy for free," deputy director of athletics Rob Mullens said, according to the Louisville Courier-Journal.

While the Wildcats have some of the most loyal and passionate fans in college basketball, that did not translate into attendance that would support the museum, which struggled financially from the start.

Consultants had told the original staff that the museum would bring in 130,000 visitors in its first year and average 110,000 visitors yearly thereafter, Florence said, according to the Courier-Journal. Instead, it drew 27,000 visitors in 1999 and averaged about 18,000 visitors yearly.

"When I took over, it was a long shot," Florence said, according to the Courier-Journal. "It was so far in debt, we just hoped we could save it. But we got the debt down to $1 million, and we raised $600,000 in about six months, but we just couldn't do the million. It was a great ride."

The museum, which is separate from the university and its athletics association, owed more than $3 million to eight banks that funded its creation, according to the Lexington Herald Leader. Mullens said he understood that the banks that made those loans are willing to waive $2 million of the debt, but want the remaining $1 million by June 30.

The university will assume $1.2 million of that debt and will pay $100,000 a year to pay it off, Mullens said. The University had contributed $100,000 yearly to defray the museum's operating costs.