The city has now purchased one downtown building to help a nonprofit, while another city-owned building needs to be “addressed” before it even opens.
The Mobile City Council last week approved purchasing, for $1, the building at the corner of Government and Water streets, which houses the Gulf Coast Exploreum Science Center. The purchase gives the city a $15 million asset and allows the center more money to operate.
The deal mandates the city to pay for utilities and maintenance of the building, saving the Exploreum $300,000 per year, an expense it has carried since the Stimpson administration slashed performance contracts last year.
City spokesman George Talbot wrote in an email message last week the estimated cost to the city would be $400,000 per year, which includes utilities, maintenance and insurance.
“It’s a positive step for downtown and all the other assets connected to it,” Talbot said.
The deal comes after a budget last year in which Mayor Sandy Stimpson proposed strict cuts to the city’s performance contracts with nonprofit organizations and put an end to the city’s paying of the Exploreum’s utility bills, which were buried in the City Hall overhead fund under the previous administration of Sam Jones.
Exploreum Board of Trustees President David Trent said the move was a follow-up to a meeting members had with the Mobile City Council earlier in the year. He said the council at the time was supportive of the science center, but suggested the board reach out to the mayor’s office directly.
After that meeting, Trent emphasized that the center was in no danger of shutting down but said the business model was not sustainable.
“This is part of a sustainable business plan that reflects the financial state we are in today,” he said.
In the 1990s, when the building was erected, Trent said the exploreum was receiving money from not only the city, but from the state and federal government as well, in grants that have since expired.
Trent admitted there was a time when the center’s exhibits weren’t very interesting, but said improvements have been made and urged folks to come back.
With this new arrangement, the science center will be around for a long time, Trent said. “This agreement really does sustain us for the long term,” he said.
In his proposed 2015 budget, Stimpson offered the Exploreum only $135,000 of the $600,000 the science center had originally requested. The council slashed another $3,000 from the figure last year in order to help fund other nonprofit organizations.
According to financial information provided to the city, during the 2015 fiscal year budget cycle, revenues at the center dropped from $2.41 million in 2014 to $2.35 million and subsequently, expenses were cut to make up the difference. The Exploreum also made adjustments to pay its own utility bills, which Trent confirmed averaged about $300,000 per year.
Meanwhile, across Water Street, the exterior glass of the city-owned building housing the yet-to-open GulfQuest National Maritime Museum of the Gulf of Mexico will have to be “addressed,” Stimpson’s Chief of Staff Colby Cooper confirmed last week. Cooper said the city discovered “hundreds” of scratches on the glass during a “walk-through” of the project, but this shouldn’t delay the museum’s opening. Executive Director Tony Zodrow said the museum is only a few weeks from making an official announcement about the much-anticipated opening.
Zodrow explained workers will only replace affected panes of glass as they have them on hand. “The replacement of glass will not impact the opening schedule,” he said.
Cooper said at least some of the scratches must be fixed in order for the building to be in line with construction standards, but added that the scratches do not affect the integrity of the glass or the structure of the building.
Cooper said the city’s architectural engineering department is working to find out what needs to be done and doesn’t know how much, if any, of the glass would need to be replaced. He said he didn’t immediately know how many panels were affected.
Andi Sims, a spokeswoman for Hoar Program Management (HPM), which oversaw the construction of the building, wrote in an email that the city would look into the situation with the glass.
“HPM is aware of superficial scratches which have appeared on some of the panels since the original installation,” Sims wrote. “Since the owners have assumed control of the facilities, the city of Mobile is reviewing options for remediation.”
As for how the glass was scratched, Zodrow said that’s in dispute. He added that Metro Glass of Mobile was the vendor.
Wayne Okrezesik of Metro Glass said the exterior glass was installed and signed off on before they left the project, which was begun in January 2011.
Okrezesik said the glass wasn’t scratched when they left and doesn’t know what could’ve happened since then. He blamed coal dust, rocks, storms and everyday port activities as possible culprits.
“I don’t know what happened after we left,” he said.
The city spent at least $28 million on the building through two separate bond issues, according to information provided by Zodrow for a Lagniappe cover story in February. Several million more has been spent in change orders at the facility, but the exhibits were largely funded by private donor partnerships secured by the museum.
Cooper previously said the city will pay for for the museum’s utility bills, until it officially opens. The city issued a certificate of occupancy for the building last July.
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