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Officials uneasy over museum's financial future

By the time the Alexander the Great exhibit gets into full swing in the fall, John Galbraith may have committed more than $7.5-million toward keeping the Florida International Museum afloat.

And as City Council members prepare to cross a few t's on the city's $1.5-million in museum loan guarantees, they are once again wringing their hands over the downtown museum's future.

"I don't see a light at the end of the tunnel," Council Chairman Edward Cole said during a council workshop Tuesday. "I wish somebody would show us."

Galbraith, the museum chairman and retired mutual fund administrator, told council members last month he would again dip into his pockets to keep the museum operating before the "Alexander the Great" exhibit starts generating revenue in October. The council unanimously agreed to extend the city's own loan guarantees at the time.

On Thursday, the council will be asked to approve an added agreement formally recognizing that as the money comes in, Galbraith gets his bridge loans paid back first. That already has been the practice with previous bridge loans from Galbraith, though it has not been spelled out on paper.

Chief Assistant Attorney John Wolfe assured the council that the city's guarantee is still protected to the point that Galbraith himself would have to lose $3.75-million before any city funds were tapped.

Still, with so much uncertainty surrounding the museum, the council on Thursday is likely to have plenty of questions for museum president Joseph Cronin. After all, the more money Galbraith advances directly to the museum, the more money the museum has to make to pay off the loans backed by the city and others.

"What is the long-range plan," Council member David Welch asked after hearing Galbraith has put up $3.75-million in loan guarantees and is prepared to increase his direct loans up to $3.8-million. "That's a lot of money to make up."

Mayor David Fischer, who sits on the museum board along with Council member Connie Kone and another city staffer, noted that sending exhibitions to other cities will bring in more revenue. When Council member Leslie Curran asked how much money the museum lost on the recently completed "Splendors of Ancient Egypt" exhibition, Fischer recalled that the newspaper reported about $3-million.

"We've got three people on the board. No one knows what the loss is, but it was in the paper, we think," Curran said, shaking her head.

Rejecting the agreement giving Galbraith a measure of protection for his generosity does not seem like much of an option at this point. To do so would jeopardize the $2.25-million line of credit that the museum is about to close on to get the Alexander the Great exhibition started.

Given the museum's apparently grim financial picture at this point, losing the line of credit would mean the Greek exhibit would likely be off and that the city might lose some of the money it put up for loan guarantees for Splendors.

Other backers of the $2.25-million line of credit include Florida Progress Corp. and the Times.