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Vinik sits down to 'get to know' MOSI's new leader

TAMPA — The Museum of Science and Industry's new leader sat down with Jeff Vinik Monday afternoon, her first such meeting with the hockey team owner who wants to move the museum downtown.

Molly Demeulenaere was chosen as MOSI's president and CEO in June, two months after the Tampa Bay Lightning owner's development team announced it was exploring the idea of moving the financially strapped museum to Vinik's planned $1 billion development near Amalie Area.

"We had a very nice 'get to know you' meeting this afternoon — nothing more, nothing less," Vinik said in a statement to the Tampa Bay Times after the meeting. "We'll consider any next steps at a future time."

Demeulenaere was not available for comment.

Last month, the Times reported Demeulenaere was chosen to steer MOSI despite problems during her tenure leading Gulfcoast Wonder and Imagination Zone, a science museum in Sarasota. Former G.WIZ stakeholders said Demeulenaere hid the depth of the museum's financial woes. The museum shuttered its doors shortly after she left in 2012.

County administrator Mike Merrill recently told the Times that he doubted her ability to lead the north Tampa museum in a new era downtown. He recommended the museum search for a new director if a move is approved. At the time, Vinik reiterated his interest in moving MOSI to his redevelopment project in an area that includes the Channel District as an attraction for families and tourists.

The move could be a boon for the museum with more foot traffic moving through a downtown location. Attendance has been on the decline over the past several years, and MOSI needs revenue.

Merrill's concerns were echoed by some county commissioners who worry about the future under Demeulenaere's direction.

MOSI board president Robert Thomas said he is reserving judgment until the museum finishes studying a relocation. "I'm keeping an open mind about everything," Thomas said.

Contact Anne Steele at asteele@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3400.

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