A tactical retreat and regrouping seems to be paying off for Hillsborough County’s Museum of Science and Industry. After paring back its operations, the museum posted a small profit over the past year, enabling the attraction to keep its doors open as it positions for a brighter future. This testifies to MOSI’s appeal and solid brand name in the market and to the continuing support from leaders who recognize the value in preserving this institution.
The north Tampa museum made $90,384 in the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, according to financial statements provided to the Tampa Bay Times. While not a blockbuster number, the museum lost $1.4 million in 2016, ran a deficit of $438,000 in 2015 and had not finished in the black since 2012.
The improved performance stemmed the bleeding at MOSI, which struggled with financial shortfalls, a leadership void, a cavernous, outdated facility and a sclerotic sense of mission. Museum president and CEO Julian Mackenzie told the Times’ Steve Contorno that MOSI "came very close to shutting its doors for good." Having shed staff and moved into a much smaller space, the museum is projecting a small surplus for 2018 as well.
This turnaround was not by accident; it reflects the difficult but necessary decision by MOSI to adapt to the realities of the times. MOSI consolidated space within its longtime home across from the University of South Florida’s north Tampa campus, closing low-performing exhibits and reducing its footprint to less than one-sixth its former size. A smaller facility and staffing cuts enabled MOSI to reduce costs while maintaining a presence in Tampa, furthering its ability to remain in operation until 2022, when it expects to move into a new home in downtown Tampa as part of Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik’s $3 billion remake of the channel district.
MOSI needed to change course to freshen its appeal and renew its mission. The slimmed-down facility relaunched last month with lower ticket prices and a new digital exhibit; officials also plan to bring back traveling exhibits to the museum along with special events. And MOSI is looking to bring the museum’s science instructors to schools across the region; called MOSI in Motion, the program aims to use a fleet of vans for an educational outreach program that would bring 1,350 off-site "science experiences" to school campuses each year.
The new relationships MOSI is forging will be important as it seeks support for a new home and as it looks to programming that attracts more visitors. Vinik and others have helped MOSI by giving it the time and breathing space to rebuild its finances and freshen its look. Board chairman Robert Thomas has provided a strong and steady hand during the transition.
MOSI still faces many hurdles in moving to a new space and reinvigorating an old brand. But the desire and creativity seem to be there, the management team is committed and realistic, and the prospects for building new ties with the private sector are only getting stronger in a region with dynamic growth. MOSI will need to continue sharpening its focus and paying attention to its bottom line. But this is a fresh break from years of bad news, and it promises that MOSI will continue to contribute to the bay area’s culture and quality of life.