The fossil exhibit was successful at the first stop on the tour -- Houston in 2007, but the expenses have other museums reconsidering the planned six-year, 10-city tour.
The Seattle center's staff redesigned the Lucy exhibit, adding a large section on Ethiopian history and artifacts, an audio tour and interactive displays in which visitors can put themselves in the shoes of a fossil hunter.
"It's a powerful story of evolution and culture and history ... but we're not getting the attendance we need for an exhibit of this scale," Seidl said.
The center had hoped to draw 250,000 visitors during the exhibit that ends March 8, but only 60,000 have come. Seidl blamed the recession, which has cut into arts and museum revenue nationwide, as well as December snowstorms that curtailed travel within and around Seattle.
The Lucy show cost the center about $2.25 million, Seidl estimated. That includes a $500,000 fee to Ethiopia, which plans to use the money for cultural and scientific programs.
The Field Museum in Chicago withdrew from the tour because of the cost. Debate over whether the irreplaceable fossil should be shipped around the globe led the Denver Museum of Nature & Science to drop the idea after early consideration.
"Lucy may not be anywhere other than Ethiopia after Seattle," Seidl said.
But Donald Johanson, the American anthropologist who discovered Lucy, said fascination with the skeleton remained strong.
"As I travel around the country lecturing, people seem to have a deep interest in their origins, in their roots," Johanson said.
Information from: The Seattle Times,