Despite growing concerns from its creditors, the board of trustees for the GulfQuest Maritime Museum of the Gulf of Mexico has been cutting into its debt, Chairman Mike Lee said last week.
Lee said the board has paid off about half — or nearly $1 million — of its reported $1.8 million debt. Those payments have gone mostly to creditors owed smaller amounts of money, including this newspaper.

“We’ve reached out to all our creditors,” Lee said. “There’s light at the end of the tunnel.”

The board is still working with some of its larger creditors, including the companies responsible for creating the museum’s exhibits. Among those companies is the Nashville-based 1220.
“We’re talking to 1220 regularly,” Lee said. “We’re not in an adversarial position with them. It’s a pay-as-you-go situation and we’ve made some payments to them.”

The board has raised nearly $1 million to help pay debts, but Lee admits the money is not earmarked for any specific purpose. Some of the money went to repair exhibits, he said. A majority of the money raised so far is in the form of three- to five-year pledges, meaning the debts can’t be paid off in one lump sum, he said.

“We’re working with vendors and many have agreed to reduced amounts,” Lee said. “There are strong feelings from creditors that they want to help us through it. We’re picking away at.”
Some of the money raised will be used for a marketing plan, Lee said, because “most people don’t know we’ve reopened.”

“Attendance is still struggling because we haven’t done any marketing,” he said. “A little attendance bump would do wonders.”

A representative of 1220 did not return a call seeking comment last week.

Lee said events and school trips to the museum have picked up recently.

“It’s the go-to place for any event,” he said. “We have two or three things per month now. There’s a lot going on there.”

The board is optimistic it can strike a deal with Carnival Cruise Line in the coming months, Lee said. A deal with Carnival would open up a “potentially big market for us,” he said.
The museum is currently hosting a visiting exhibit called “Savage Ancient Seas.” Lee said the exhibit, which shows casts of skeletons of ancient sea creatures, is a “big hit.” The exhibit will end in April.

Admission is $16 for adults, $15 for seniors, military and students, and $13 for youth ages 5-17. Members and children under age 5 are admitted free. For more information about the exhibition, call 251-436-8901 or visit www.gulfquest.org.

The museum is currently open Wednesday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.