To celebrate its 75th anniversary, the Columbus Foundation is picking up the tab for a full day of communitywide transportation and cultural exploration Dec. 29.
All Central Ohio Transit Authority bus rides will be free on the Saturday after Christmas, and no one will pay admission at six of central Ohio's best-known museums and arts centers: the Columbus Museum of Art, COSI, the Franklin Park Conservatory and Botanical Gardens, the National Veterans Memorial and Museum, Ohio History Connection and the Wexner Center for the Arts.
"It's meant to be a gift to the community," Doug Kridler, the foundation's president and CEO, said during COTA's board meeting Dec. 12.
Although the promotion -- being called "The Big Explore" -- is aimed at boosting visits to those cultural institutions, all COTA lines will be free to all riders, no matter their destination.
"If they want to take it to Easton to go Christmas shopping, they can," said Natalie Parscher, a foundation spokeswoman.
Riders and attendees won't have to show proof of residency. Even people who don't know about the promotion won't be asked to pay fares or admission fees.
"It'll just be a nice surprise," Parscher said.
Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams also is joining the celebration by offering 75-cent scoops of ice cream at all central Ohio shops Dec. 29, the foundation said.
For families with tight budgets, the waiving of admission fees can go a long way. General admission to COSI, for example, is $25 for adults and $20 for children ages 2 to 12.
"It's a great opportunity," said COSI spokeswoman Jaclyn Reynolds. "I think it's wonderful."
She said COSI would extend its hours that day, opening from 10 a.m. until 7 p.m. instead of closing at 5 p.m.
Free admission at the other participating museums and attractions is available during regular operating hours.
The free COTA rides will be offered during regular route times from 5 a.m. Dec. 29 to 1 a.m. Dec. 30.
"This is going to be so meaningful to those who (normally) don't have access," said Trudy Bartley, chairwoman of the COTA board.
COTA estimated the fare revenue that typically would be collected that day at $20,000. The foundation didn't have a ready estimate for the overall tab it will pay, but it said it could be hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Kridler said the foundation, which was established in 1943, wanted to give back on behalf of those who have helped it thrive.
"It is the people of this community who, despite the odds, willed this to become one of the leading community philanthropies in the world," he said in a news release. "What better way to celebrate our anniversary than to give everyone a chance to explore our community together?"
The Columbus Foundation is posting details about the offer on www.columbusfoundation.org.