National Cathedral to start charging admission fee to tourists

Photo: Heather Farrell

WASHINGTON (AP) - Struggling to cover its costs, Washington National Cathedral has decided to begin charging an admission fee for tourists who visit the church beginning in 2014.

Cathedral officials said Monday that they will begin charging a $10 fee for adults and $6 for children, seniors and military members in January. Admission will be free on Sundays, as well as on weekdays for those who visit to worship or pray.

The Rev. Gary Hall, the cathedral's dean, said the decision to charge a fee was made reluctantly. But he noted that the cathedrals of Europe charge fees to help fund their upkeep.

"All we are charging for is tourism essentially," Hall said. "We're not charging for the essential services of the cathedral."

Some in the cathedral's congregation, though, have been vocal in opposing the move, Hall said. "Nobody is excited, but most people understand it," he said.

Still, the church needs to generate more revenue to avoid budget deficits and to be able to raise funds to complete repairs for $26 million in earthquake damage that dates back to 2011, he said. So far, the church has collected about $7 million.

Since it reopened after the earthquake, the cathedral has been recommending a donation for tours, and it began charging fees for specialty tours focused on the building's stained glass, gargoyles and other features. The plan to charge a fixed admission fee was first reported by The Washington Times.

Since Hall arrived in 2012, the church has cut $1.7 million from its budget, he said, through a hiring freeze, attrition, changes in vendors and a salary freeze for higher paid employees. No staff members were laid off, Hall said.

The church ran a deficit in its most recent fiscal year, ending in June, but is projected to at least break even in 2014, Hall said.

"We need to grow in certain areas that we don't have the resources to do right now," Hall said. "If we just keep cutting and cutting and cutting ... we'll just be kind of a shrinking institution."

There are plans to reopen the Cathedral College, which has been closed to ministers since 2009 because of financial challenges, and the church needs to grow its education offerings and other programs, Hall said.

Construction of the church began in 1907 and was funded by donations collected by Episcopalians across the country. There is no steady revenue from the government or the Episcopal Church to fund the cathedral.