Local tourism organizations endeavor to answer the question.
With its colorful history and a name recognized around the world, Dodge City began dabbling in the tourism market when the U.S. highway system was built and families began taking vacations.
Boot Hill, where Pop Rhodes and the Rotary Club put some concrete boots and faces sticking up our of fake graves, has always been the centerpiece of Dodge City's attractions.
As the tourist market evolved, the dancing chicken, two-headed calf and open grave complete with skeleton gave way to informative exhibits and the gift shops along the Front Street replica gave way to realistic interiors.
As Dodge City begins to realize the benefits of the Why Not Dodge? projects, organizers continue to struggle with how to make the most of the town's tourism potential.
In 2007, the Community Facilities Advisory Board began giving grants to local tourism organizations. The interlocal agreement that governs the management of the Why Not Dodge? sales tax revenue and the projects created with the tax allows up to 15% of a year's sales tax revenue to be used for organizational funding.
CFAB accepts applications for organizational funding in November and the board makes funding recommendations at their January meeting.
Their recommendations are forwarded to a joint city/county commission meeting for final approval.
Seven tourism organizations have been recommended for funding this year: The Depot Theater Company, Boot Hill Museum, Dodge City Roundup, the Dodge City Area Arts Council, Trail of Fame, Ford County Historical Society and the Kansas Teachers Hall of Fame.
The Daily Globe, in an effort to inform the community about the work these organizations are doing, will profile each attraction over the next few weeks.
The Depot Theater Company
The Depot Theater Company was created when local performers who were involved with the Long Branch Variety Show at Boot Hill wanted to continue producing shows during the winter months.
There was no community theater in Dodge City at the time, so The Boot Hill Repertory Company was formed as part of the museum in 1984, producing shows in the Old House Saloon.
Community reaction was positive and the company continued to grow, eventually moving to the old Elks Club building on Wyatt Earp Blvd., which became the Homestead Theater, and then spearheading a restoration project to save and renovate the Santa Fe Depot.
The company's new theater in the depot opened in 2004.
The company produces a show every other month. Most productions are dinner theater in the depot. In addition, the company presents cabaret performances and "Side Track" productions in the Homestead Theater.
Ryan Carpenter, chair of the theater's board of directors and Connie Penick, chief operating officer, spoke with the Globe recently.
"One of the big things we accomplished last year was the creation of an endowment for the theater," Carpenter said.
The endowment, created to preserve the company and the theaters, works with the Community Foundation to contact potential donors. The foundation can also bring in estate planners to work with donors.
Other progress includes joint efforts with the city, which is the owner of the buildings, and the Tourism Task Force, a committee created to implement recommendations of a master tourism plan.
"We are looking for ways to use the unused space in the depot and create revenue," Carpenter said.
"We had Jayhawk Consultants from Kansas University do a feasibility study comparing the benefits of creating an incubator space in the depot or creating a boutique hotel," he said.
The process is ongoing and no decisions have been made.
Meanwhile, the task force has contracted technicians to do maintenance work on the sandstone belt course around the building, to halt moisture seepage into the building, and to stabilize the exterior. In the spring, maintenance work will begin on the depot's windows.
"And we're having a great season," Carpenter said.
"We're satisfied with the numbers and the shows have been well-received. We're looking for ways to bring in more people: shows without the dinner, things like that," he said.
As for challenges the organization faces in the coming year, Carpenter said reaching new patrons was a top priority.
"We're working on what we can offer to get them in the door. We're going to try things like showing a film that's related to one of the shows, we're working with the Wichita Grand Opera and the Great Plains Theatre Festival in Abilene to arrange cooperative efforts, and we're expanding the youth division with more programs and workshops that culminate in a production," he said.
Penick has been trying to get musical productions back on the schedule.
"Because of budgeting concerns, we haven't scheduled a musical in recent seasons. But the company was built on musicals and people expect that from us," she said.
So the company is experimenting with a community production outside the regular schedule. "Annie Get Your Gun" will be produced in June using faculty and students from the high school and the community college.
"The hardest part is finding a director," Penick said. "There are a lot more layers to putting a musical together. We'll probably do this every other year."
What you don't know
Whenever Dodge City's tourism organizations get together, the subject of getting the word out to the public comes up. A tourism coalition has been formed and meets regularly.
"We always talk about how we're not sure people even know we're here," Penick said.
Asked to list things the public might not know about the Depot Theater Company, Penick said "We need board members. And volunteers."
It takes a lot of people to keep the company going.
According to Penick, one recent production made use of the volunteer efforts of 57 people.
"It doesn't have to be a huge commitment of time," Penick said.
"We need painters, builders, lights and sound people — sometimes they only work one day per production," she said.
Penick also said she hopes people know that the company offers an expanded entertainment schedule.
And that it takes a lot of money to keep the theater alive.
"Our budget can't just come from ticket sales, so we hold a lot of fundraising events," she said.
Penick says that attendance habits have evolved.
"We have 700 season ticketholders, which is not enough, but our show by show numbers in general sales are up. People tend to pick and choose among productions now," she said.
She also noted that lots of dinner theaters across the country are closing.
"Food costs are a challenge," she said.
In upcoming months, the theater will host a screening of a movie filmed in Hodgeman County, a concert by a group called "Three Gypsies," National Train Day on May 11 and their annual "5X5" fundraiser on May 5.
"We're also working on hosting a prom dinner in April and, of course, we're working on the 2013-14 season. The challenge there is finding directors."
Help from Why Not Dodge?
The Depot Theater Company requested $150,000 from organizational funding and members of CFAB recommended the full amount.
If approved by the joint city/county commission, the company will use that money to offset maintenance salary, utilities and insurance for the depot.
"Those costs actually add up to $185,000 per year, so the organizational funding is a big help," Penick said.
In addition, the Tourism Task Force, which is also funded with organizational funding dollars, included $150,000 for the depot in their budget request. If approved, that money will be spent on continuing to maintain and stabilize the building and develop uses that could generate revenue.
Follow Don Steele on Twitter @Don_dcglobe.