James E. Broughton, the man who brought culture, national acclaim and hundreds of thousands of visitors to downtown St. Petersburg, will leave his job as director of the Florida International Museum when his contract expires in July.
Broughton's announcement, which appeared inevitable in recent months, came after he and the museum board were unable to agree on fundamental issues of control. Broughton wanted to maintain his status as the entrepreneur running the show _ with all the risk of loss and potential for profit. The board wanted more control over the finances.
"We weren't able to reach an agreement on that," Broughton said. "It didn't work out."
In an interview Tuesday, Broughton laid out his plans for the future. He intends to continue organizing large scale exhibitions, but now he'll be taking his shows on the road. His company, Broughton International, will produce exhibitions and take them to cities around the nation and the world. He said early next year he will announce plans for his first national tour.
What will happen next at the Florida International Museum is not so clear. The museum board meets today, and museum board chairman John Galbraith will go before the St. Petersburg City Council on Thursday to discuss the museum's future.
"Do we want to continue? Of course," said Joseph F. Cronin, president of the Florida International Museum. "We need to decide if the museum can continue, and how.
"I think the resounding vote of the community is we've been a tremendous success, with one exception: financially," Cronin said. "We need to address that."
The museum's finances have been at issue all along, and the latest vital signs provide more cause for concern. The museum is roughly $5-million in the red. And both Broughton and Cronin acknowledged that attendance at the current "Alexander the Great" exhibition has been disappointing so far. The exhibition opened in October and runs through March.
On the positive side, the "Splendors of Ancient Egypt," which closed here in July, appears to be having a full life elsewhere. Broughton said "Splendors" will show in Detroit after it concludes in Houston. Cronin could not confirm the Detroit venue. The Florida International Museum benefits financially whenever another city takes the show.
Evidently, the differences of opinion between Broughton and the museum board began even before Broughton's well-publicized difficulties in landing the "Splendors of Ancient Egypt" show last year.
Nevertheless, Broughton said, it was the disappointments with the "Egypt" exhibition that changed everything. Said Broughton: "We were never able to recover the momentum we had."
At one time, the museum seemed to have enough momentum to carry all of downtown St. Petersburg along with it.
The "Treasures of the Czars" exhibition in 1995 brought in more money and visitors and had a more widespread economic impact than anyone imagined. As a success story it was tough to beat: A city known as a sleepy retirement haven turns an old department store into a thriving international museum full of priceless treasures.
After all those years of being jilted by Major League Baseball and trying not to feel like Tampa's kid sister, St. Petersburg suddenly was being flattered by the national press and held up as an exciting cultural center.
Stores and restaurants sprang up near the museum almost overnight. An economic impact study said the "Czars" generated $34-million outside the museum. And there was more to come. The day after the "Czars" show closed, Broughton announced the next show: "Splendors of Ancient Egypt," opening January 1996.
However, the relationship already was unraveling.
In October 1995, the museum board offered to extend Broughton's three-year contract by five years. The proposed contract included significant changes in the relationship between the museum board and Broughton.
"It became clear this relationship had some negatives for us," Cronin said. "We did not have as much control over the money as we would have liked."
The museum board was under pressure from the city of St. Petersburg and from the Times to exert more control. Even in the glow of the "Czars" success, Broughton's private management style was clashing with the realities of a museum supported through taxpayer-guaranteed loans. Backers include Galbraith, the city, the Times and Florida Progress.
The pressure heated up this time last year when Broughton had to delay the "Egypt" exhibition because of problems getting the artifacts out of Cairo. He did not have a signed contract for the artifacts, and at the last moment the show began to fall apart.
He salvaged the show, collecting different Egyptian artifacts from a museum in Germany.
"That was a very difficult time," Broughton said Tuesday. "There was the trauma of all the difficulties I was having in Egypt and the more devastating trauma of what happened here at home."
City Council members and the Times editorial page questioned Broughton's secretive management style and called for him to be more open, especially since the public's money was at stake. Council members were troubled that the museum could lose money while the museum director, Broughton, could turn a profit.
"I think there were some things that had to happen, some things that had to change," said City Council member Connie Kone, a non-voting member of the museum board. "The question was whether Mr. Broughton was willing to make those adjustments."
Then and now, Broughton maintains that he is a private businessman, and that if he is willing to take the financial risk he should enjoy the financial rewards. Over the last several months he rejected the museum board's contract proposals because they would have cost him his autonomy.
The irony, Broughton said, is that the perceptions of his profitmaking are all wrong.
"Financially, I currently show a huge loss," he said. "If we can turn "Alexander (the Great)' around, I might be able to break even.
"For someone to think I've made off with the purse strings of St. Petersburg . . . I would have been better off financially if I had never left Memphis."
Broughton chooses not to make his finances public, but he said his losses total "somewhere in the million-dollar range." His investment in a restaurant in the museum, he said, cost him about $500,000. When the troubled "Egypt" show turned out to be a different show altogether, he was stuck with hundreds of thousands of "catalogs with no exhibition."
"I think it's clear the city has benefited," said Mayor David Fischer. "The museum has put us on the map. It has made its mark in the community and in the region. I would hope it would continue."
Broughton remained upbeat Tuesday, dwelling on the successes of the museum.
"For the Kremlin museum, the Vatican museum, the Greek museum, to send their priceless art to a museum that used to be a department store . . . it's a remarkable thing," he said.
The museum expects to see its millionth visitor next month.
The James Broughton era
April: "Catherine the Great," an exhibition of items from Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg, Russia, opens in Memphis, Tenn. James E. Broughton, chief administrative officer for city of Memphis, is director of exhibition.
December: Broughton leaves Memphis city staff when city won't meet his request for a pay raise and a percentage of exhibition profits. He confers with Mayor David Fischer about St. Petersburg's becoming the fourth venue for the "Catherine" exhibit.
May 26: Nine businesspeople create Florida Cultural Exhibitions Inc. (FCE), a not-for-profit organization. Broughton is named executive director.
June 19-26: Fischer and Broughton fly to St. Petersburg, Russia . They are unable to get an agreement to host the "Catherine" exhibit, but Hermitage officals suggest creating an exhibit focusing on Nicholas II and Alexandra, the last czar and his wife.
March 25: After negotiations for Nicholas and Alexander exhibit break down, FCE signs a letter of intent in Moscow with the Kremlin Museums to stage a major exhibit.
Oct. 6: The binding letter of agreement to stage the exhibit is signed in St. Petersburg, Fla.
January: John W. Galbraith, retired executive, Florida Progress Corp. and the Times agree to underwrite a $2.5-million line of a credit as a construction loan to renovate the vacant Maas Brothers building as the Florida International Museum. The City of St. Petersburg agrees to underwrite $ 500,000 - to be paid only after the other underwriters' $ 2-million is paid. Later, the three private donors grant loans totaling $ 3.2-million, and Templeton Worldwide offers an undisclosed sum to promote the exhibit.
July 11: oseph F. Cronin, former executive vice president of Florida Progress Corp., one of the four major guarantors, is elected president and CEO of the not-for-profit group.
Jan. 11: "Treasures of the Czars" debuts.
June 11: 'Treasures of the Czars" closes after drawing 602,000 visitors; 500,000 were needed to break even.
June 12: Broughton announces that "Splendors of Ancient Egypt" will be the next exhibit, to begin Jan. 10, 1996. Estimated cost: close to $6.2 million.
Dec. 13: Museum board meets and members are informed that a final contract has not been signed.
Dec. 28: A top Egyptian official says Splendors cannot open Jan. 10 because the museum can't get a contract signed with the Egyptians for the loan of 72 artifacts.
Jan. 16: Broughton announces "Splendors of Ancient Egypt." will open on Feb. 6 with 174 artifacts from the Roemer and Pelizaeus Museum in Hildesheim, Germany.
May 17: Broughton agrees to a change in his contract that will give Florida International Museum a potentially bigger share of gift shop money and the museum board tighter control over spending.
July 7: "Splendors of Ancient Egypt" closes. The exhibit draws about 300,000 visitors - roughly 40 percent fewer people than expected, putting the museum more than $ 5-million in debt.
Oct. 1: The $6-million "Alexander the Great" exhibit opens with 600 artifacts from more than 50 museums.
Compiled by Times News Researchers Carolyn Hardnett and John Martin