Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Great Explorations museum haggles with St. Petersburg over debt

Great Explorations opened a tree house attraction in 2007. The children’s museum at 1925 Fourth St. N in the Sunken Gardens complex has fallen on hard times as donations and attendance have dropped.

WILLIE J. ALLEN JR. | Times (2007)

Great Explorations opened a tree house attraction in 2007. The children’s museum at 1925 Fourth St. N in the Sunken Gardens complex has fallen on hard times as donations and attendance have dropped.

ST. PETERSBURG — Great Explorations, the struggling children's museum that is in breach of its rental agreement with the city, will have to wait another two weeks before it knows where its home will be.

The City Council has not been able to agree on how or whether to forgive the money the museum owes for its space at the Sunken Gardens complex on Fourth Street N.

The museum is current on its rent, but it hasn't been paying its monthly fee to cover construction costs of a new entrance that the city built seven years ago. The city estimates the museum owes $38,000.

What the museum pays the city is composed of three parts: monthly rent of $1,788; 2 percent of sales; and a $3,095 monthly fee for the entrance construction.

Mayor Bill Foster proposed having the museum pay a flat monthly fee of $4,000, and $1,000 per month for 36 months to recoup the city's losses through 2009. No action was taken on this proposal.

The council approved the original lease in 2001, but the museum has struggled as donations have dropped.

To help get it back on track, the museum enlisted the help of former mayoral candidate Scott Wagman to lobby the city for more favorable terms. Wagman, whose wife, Beth Houghton, has sat on the museum board, spoke with council members Karl Nurse, Wengay Newton and Jim Kennedy before Thursday's meeting.

Nurse proposed that the museum pay $2,200 per month over three years and $4,883 per month to cover rent and the cost of the new entrance over the next two years. That motion failed. Newton said he didn't want to increase subsidies at the museum and instead wanted ways to have the museum provide space for summer camp activities, which the city may cut this year.

He proposed that the city charge a flat rate of $3,000 per month over five years and forgive the $38,000 the museum owes. That failed too.

So City Council members voted to bring the issue back at an April 8 meeting.

"We have more horse-trading to do," Wagman said after the meeting. "I'm impressed by the level of detail the City Council is going into for relatively small sums."

It'll be the latest round of negotiations between the museum and city. Many council members have grown skeptical of the museum's ability to meet its lease agreement.

Wagman says current payment terms are too tough. He wants $2,200 per month in rent and to pay $24,000 of the construction debt. He also wants the percentage on sales to be dropped.

The museum stopped paying the $3,000 monthly fee last year, which the city interprets as a violation of its lease. It didn't help that museum officials didn't attend meetings last year meant to hash out these issues. Or that an audit of museum finances, which the lease requires, wasn't delivered to the city.

Museum executive director Alan Kahle said the museum is now cooperating and blamed some of last year's missed communications on confusion during a busy political season. The audit has been ordered, and it will be produced by May.

"We're working together now," Kahle said. "It's important that we don't look back."

Wagman's job is to convince the council that the museum's problems are in the past. He said the museum fired 17 staffers last year and that it's still cutting costs. Its previous director, David Penn was a visionary, but also spent too freely, he said.

"The city's not the enemy here," Wagman said. "We made mistakes of our own."

Foster is receptive to working with the museum and gets along with Wagman, who contributed to his mayoral campaign after losing in the primary. But Foster still views the city as subsidizing Great Explorations. And museum operations sometimes conflict with how the city wants the facility used, he said.

For instance, the museum operates a day care on its property on weekdays. But that causes problems when older people attending Sunken Gardens want to use the bathrooms and have to dodge children.

It will be up to the council to decide what to do. The day care center is considered a major plus for council member Steve Kornell.

So Wagman will continue to try to convince council members that the museum deserves a break. To do that, he'll have to change the mind-set that Great Explorations is a charity case.

"The notion that the museum is getting a subsidy is tough to swallow," he said. "We are an amenity."

Michael Van Sickler can be reached at (727) 893-8037 or [email protected]

Fast facts

Museum's hard times

Great Explorations has been battered by poor attendance and falling revenue. In 2006-07, 101,000 people attended, but that dropped 20 percent the next year and has not recovered. Income dropped 16 percent this year from last.

The museum's monthly payment has three parts: rent of $1,788; 2 percent of sales; and a $3,095 monthly fee that pays for construction of the entrance. The latter fee is what the museum hasn't been paying, causing a $38,000 debt.

Great Explorations museum haggles with St. Petersburg over debt 03/25/10 [Last modified: Friday, March 26, 2010 5:58pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Astros rout Yankees to force Game 7 of AL Championship Series

    Ml

    HOUSTON — Justin Verlander pitched seven shutout innings to outduel Luis Severino for the second time, and the Astros bats came alive in their return home as Houston routed the Yankees 7-1 Friday night and forced a decisive Game 7 in the American League Championship Series.

    The Astros’ Brian McCann, who has struggled during the ALCS, breaks a scoreless tie with an RBI double during the fifth inning off Yankees starter Luis Severino.
  2. Review: Faith Hill and Tim McGraw shower love, star power on Tampa's Amalie Arena

    Blogs

    Near the end of their potent new duet Break First, Tim McGraw stopped singing, and let Faith Hill's powerhouse voice take over.

    Faith Hill and Tim McGraw performed at Amalie Arena in Tampa on Oct. 20, 2017.
  3. Senate to take up AUMF debate as Trump defends reaction to Niger attack

    World

    WASHINGTON — The Senate Foreign Relations Committee is taking up a long-awaited debate about authorizing military force against the Islamic State as President Trump comes under unprecedented public scrutiny for his treatment of dead soldiers' families, following an ambush on troops helping to fight Islamic …

  4. In fear and vigilance, a Tampa neighborhood holds its breath

    K12

    TAMPA — There was a time, not long ago, when Wayne Capaz would go for a stroll at night and Christina Rodriguez would shop whenever she wanted. Michael Fuller would go to his night job as a line cook, not too worried about his wife at home.

    More than 50 people gathered and walked in the Southeast Seminole Heights community Friday to pay respects to the victims of three shootings. The crowd took a moment of silence at the corner of 11th Street and East New Orleans where Monica Hoffa was found dead. [JONATHAN CAPRIEL  |  Times]
  5. Fennelly: What's not to like about Lightning's start?

    Lightning Strikes

    BRANDON — No one is engraving the Stanley Cup. No one has begun stuffing the league MVP ballot box for Nikita Kucherov.

    The Lightning, with a win tonight, would match the best start in franchise history, 7-1-1 in the 2003-04 Cup season.