The rise and fall of GulfQuest

The $60 million GulfQuest National Maritime Museum of the Gulf of Mexico closed in November 2016, after just 13 months in operation. Lagniappe's series of news stories, investigations, commentary and reviews raised questions about its feasibility before the doors even opened. BY LAGNIAPPE STAFF

The rise and fall of GulfQuest

Council eyeing GulfQuest cuts, firefighter raises in budget

Would the closure of the city’s maritime museum lead to raises for firefighters? Councilman Levon Manzie thinks it should and made his wishes known during a meeting of the City Council’s finance committee Tuesday afternoon. During a discussion of the proposed fiscal year 2018 budget, Mobile city councilors made clear they wanted to try and find funds to provide firefighters the same longevity raises Mobile police officers received last year. The raises would equal 2.5 percent for every five years on the job up to 20 years of service. While both firefighters and police received $5,000 across-the-board raises in...

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Financial, attendance analysis shows GulfQuest was never solvent

GulfQuest National Maritime Museum of the Gulf of Mexico struggled to attract attendance in each of its 13 months in operation. Records provided by outgoing Executive Director Tony Zodrow indicate the museum was unable to maintain a steady admission base, which ultimately led Mobile Mayor Sandy Stimpson to take over the $60 million facility and temporarily close it to the public. A GulfQuest activity report released during a Sept. 8 meeting of the museum’s board of trustees, shows the facility attracted 73,343 visitors in the 11 months it was open, between September 2015 and August 2016. A report from...

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City takes over doomed GulfQuest

Although it opened roughly 13 months ago with a news conference and a few blasts from the horn of a tugboat, GulfQuest National Maritime Museum of the Gulf of Mexico closed temporarily to the public this week with barely a whimper. After about two decades of planning and five years after ground was broken on the banks of the Mobile River in downtown Mobile, the $60 million, state-of-the-art museum simply ran out of money and was absorbed “until further notice” by Mayor Sandy Stimpson’s office. In a statement, Stimpson announced a “transition period” for the museum and an agreement...

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GulfQuest’s failure has many fathers

In what has to be the perfect side note to the GulfQuest debacle, the folks from the Ripley’s Believe It or Not museums were in town last week going through the soon-to-be-shuttered maritime museum. Upon hearing this I thought they must have come to add the GulfQuest National Maritime Museum of the Gulf of Mexico as an exhibit in one of their odd museums. I mean, a maritime museum that was 20 years in the making, and took five years just to build, closing (at least temporarily)  about two minutes after celebrating its first year in business is pretty...

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GulfQuest focusing on locals after attendance report

When GulfQuest National Maritime Museum of the Gulf of Mexico board of trustees chairman Mike Lee had to tell a neighbor the facility wasn’t an aquarium, he realized maybe more marketing was needed. “I said ‘my own neighbor hasn’t figured out it’s not an aquarium,’” he said. “We have to get the word out and we have to get some marketing dollars. We have to spend them in a smart way … ” An emphasis on targeted marketing may help the museum, after it fell well short of projected attendance numbers in its first year with only 80,000 paid...

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Time to open up, GulfQuest

It has certainly been perhaps the most scrutinized public project in Mobile’s recent history, and as its bones rose from the banks of the river and opening date after opening date was pushed back, criticism mounted. But at the end of the day, GulfQuest National Maritime Museum of the Gulf of Mexico turned out to be as magnificent as promised. So why now — one year after it opened — are criticisms rising again? The simple answer at this point is that the museum has horribly missed the high marks it set for itself attendance-wise, and also isn’t paying...

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City asking GulfQuest to cough up utility payments, as agreed

According to Executive Director of Finance Paul Wesch, GulfQuest National Maritime Museum has not been holding up its end of an agreement with the city to pay its utility bills. Wesch said the city and GulfQuest had reached an agreement about a year ago where the city would pay the building’s monthly utility costs then bill the museum quarterly. Since entering into the agreement, GulfQuest has yet to make a single payment, Wesch said, noting they owe roughly $400,000. “Three quarters went by, we billed them each time and they did not pay,” he said. The city has given...

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GulfQuest attendance numbers remain unclear

After more than eight months in operation, GulfQuest National Maritime Museum officials are not making attendance numbers public. Museum spokeswoman Diana Brewer said the numbers would be released in September when GulfQuest has been operational a full year. “We have not gone through the tourist season … ,” Brewer said, explaining a year’s worth of data will allow GulfQuest’s “new type of attractions” and “new concept” to take hold. “We’re excited to see how that works out.” But attendance has been “good, not great,” she admitted, and the museum has done well with out-of-towners but struggled to lure locals...

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