Sunday, January 21, 2018
Business

MOSI leaders say move downtown isn't just a relocation, it's a reinvention

TAMPA — The members of the Tampa Downtown Partnership were watching a multimedia presentation Tuesday about the Museum of Science and Industry's much-anticipated move downtown when the screen suddenly went blank.

That was no error, said museum president and CEO Molly Demeulenaere. The blank screen symbolized the "once in a lifetime" opportunity for reinvention that MOSI now faces.

"We're starting with a blank slate," Demeulenaere said. "We have no assumptions as we move in this conversation. If you turn MOSI upside-down, what would fall out? What should fall out? How do you want to feel when you leave our institution?"

The museum's board of directors voted April 19 to include the museum in Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik and Cascade Investment's $2 billion plan to redevelop 40 acres of downtown around Amalie Arena. A move could take about five years, Demeulenaere said, but the museum is just starting that process. No site or costs have been discussed yet.

But the museum will do more than relocate, she said. It must also reinvent itself. The focus for the museum will shift from being known as the largest science center in the Southeast to being "one of the finest in North America," Demeulenaere said.

"Just picking up the MOSI we all know today and moving to downtown isn't the solution," she said. "A complete reinvention that starts now is what needs to happen if we want to move to downtown."

Moving downtown, Demeulenaere said, will allow the museum to enter into new partnerships along the Riverwalk with entities such as the Tampa Museum of Art, the Tampa Bay History Center and the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts.

MOSI doesn't expect to replicate its current 308,000-square-foot concrete behemoth, Demeulenaere said. But incorporating modern technologies into the new museum will ease moving into a smaller space.

"MOSI is more than just a building," said Jennifer Stancil, president and CEO of the Glazer Children's Museum in Tampa. "Their contributions to the community, through science outreach, are nimble.

"Disconnect the idea that MOSI is the building, because MOSI is connected to the community through schools and multiple programs."

MOSI officials are looking for ideas from other museums such as the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences for its programming; Perot Museum of Nature and Science in downtown Dallas for its design; and the Boston Museum of Science for its relationship with the local school district and policymakers.

Demeulenaere said MOSI plans to rely heavily on community opinions on the design, programming and mission of a new science center. Those discussions will help MOSI's leadership decide how much money is needed to fund the effort, what size the building should be and where it should go.

A feasibility study said a move downtown could increase MOSI's annual attendance of about 500,000 visitors by 39 percent. In the meantime, MOSI, which has endured financial problems in the past, is trying to boost attendance at its current home.

Demolition on the museum's 10,000-square-foot "Disasterville" exhibit is set to start June 6 to make way for a new exhibit featuring five platforms that showcase its Florida-based business partners, such as drone company Turin Aviation and driverless car company Meridian. The exhibits should open in September.

The museum also now has a theater where visitors can watch a live broadcast of an open-heart surgery at a Florida Hospital location, and a driverless car that was the first in the country to allow the public to get inside and take a ride. MOSI said it recently secured a $500,000 Bright Lights Community Engagement Award from the Noyce Foundation. MOSI officials said attendance is up 22 percent in the first six months of the fiscal year.

While MOSI figures out its future, museum and county leaders must also decide who will lead the move downtown. Hillsborough County Administrator Mike Merrill and county Commissioner Sandy Murman have suggested that MOSI may need a new CEO when it moves downtown.

But Demeulenaere, who took the helm in June 2015, pointed to the museum's recent accomplishments as proof that she's the best person to lead MOSI into the future.

"There's nowhere else I'd rather be," she said. "I'm committed to Tampa Bay, I'm committed to you and I'm committed to our future."

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