Time is running out for Mesa history buffs to see the community's early artifacts firsthand, as the Mesa Historical Museum is preparing to drastically scale back when it's open to the public.
The museum had been slated to close at the end of last year as its finances continue to dwindle. Now, officials plan to restrict access shortly after Saturday's 10th annual Historic Home Tour, which is the museum's largest fundraiser.
The museum is now open five days a week but no longer can afford to staff the operation. Officials stress that the museum and its collection will live on even if access is restricted.
"I think we would all like to see it open on some limited basis, if that's the weekend, one day a week, two days a week," said Vic Linoff, president of the Mesa Historical Society board of directors.
The historical society is negotiating with the city to take ownership of the collection and the museum, at the former Lehi School, 2345 N. Horne.
The museum has been hit by a decreasing interest in history museums nationwide and by a recession that's reduced donations. And it's always struggled with an out-of-the-way location in the rural Lehi neighborhood.
The city and museum are working on an agreement to preserve the 50,000-item collection and reinvent the way the museum operates. Museum officials hope they can eventually move downtown, which would help boost attendance and ticket sales.
The city doesn't have the money now and will have to wait until the economy improves to help relocate the museum, said Councilman Dennis Kavanaugh, who is also a member of the museum's advisory board.
Until then, museum officials plan to create traveling exhibits that could be shown at other venues like city buildings or shopping centers.
"We're beginning to see a trend around the country where museums go to the people rather than the people come to one central location," Linoff said.
The museum is already planning to move its most popular exhibit on spring training, Play Ball: The Cactus League Experience. An expanded version of the exhibit will open Feb. 26 at the Arizona Museum for Youth in downtown Mesa, a location that will give it much wider exposure.
The museum and the city are looking to reach an agreement soon. Kavanaugh said the city's support for the museum is strong.
"There's a hope in the community that the city and the society can find a way to make it work," Kavanaugh said.