Members of the Gulf Coast Exploreum Board of Trustees met with members of the Mobile City Council Tuesday afternoon to fill them in on the science center’s financial situation and ask for additional funding.
The board requested a $617,000 performance contract from the city during the budget cycle, but the city only gave the science center $147,000, an allocation that “surprised” board President David Trent.
“The funding we’ve received is equal to $45,000 a month,” he said. “We are in a short-term fix in terms of funding and we need some more help.”
The cut has resulted in the science center losing four full-time positions and eight part-time positions. The Exploreum now has a total of 14 full-time positions and eight part-time positions. The science center has also slashed its marketing budget, with only $200,000 now available for marketing.
The $617,000 requested by the science center’s board was going to cover building operations and utilities during fiscal year 2015. In previous years, the city paid utilities for the science center out of the City Hall overhead fund.
The board has budgeted $454,000 for building operations in 2015, said Exploreum Executive Director Jan McKay The payout increases to $494,828 with an employee to handle building maintenance, she said. Trent said the center would like the city to fund the difference between the $147,000 it gave the Exploreum and the $494,828 the center needs to operate the building.
The science center has seen its budget fall from $4.6 million in 2007 to $2.1 million this year.
The group agreed that the Exploreum board would send a proposal to the Mayor Sandy Stimpson’s office for approval. Councilors repeated that the mayor had to make any mid-year budget amendments.
McKay said the Exploreum is strengthening its fundraising efforts and is in the process of revamping its individual donor program to help bring in more money. She said the Exploreum has a “wide-range” of support from “individuals, foundations, corporations and businesses.”
While the sustainability issue is urgent, Trent said the center is not thinking of shutting down.
“It’s way too early to make those claims,” he said. “We’re not closing.”
The Exploreum sees an average attendance of 150,000 visitors a year. Tickets range from $12 for children to $16 for adults, including admission to the J.L. Bedsole IMAX dome theater. Memberships are also available.
Councilman Fred Richardson said it would be easier to fund the science center if its board would make regular presentations to the council.
“You guys have got to pull your James Brown cape off and let the world know what’s happening,” he said. “From time to time you ought to come before the city.”
He also was in support of giving the center more money. He said attractions, like the Exploreum are not money-making endeavors.
“You can’t make money from museums,” Richardson said. “They are attractions. It seems to me you’ve been doing your job and attracting people downtown.”
Councilman Levon Manzie suggested asking Mobile County Public Schools for funding. Councilman Joel Daves asked Trent whether a funding commitment would be only for this year, or would be for multiple years. Trent said the board could “wean down to whatever number” it needed to. He said Tuesday’s request came because the board wasn’t expecting such a large cut this year.
“We’ve been digging ourselves out of this hole and there was light at the end of the tunnel, until Oct. 1,” he said.
The group also discussed the money the center pays the city in sales taxes and possibly having that rebated. Any change to the structure of sales tax would require the act of the local legislative delegation.
McKay told the board about many upcoming exhibits. An exhibit coming in February called the “Great Dinosaur Egg Hunt” features 100 real dinosaur eggs. A program called “NASA: Past, Present and Future” would be featured in April. Mckay said an exhibit on the history of chocolate and the history of music would be coming to the exploreum in the future.