Hillsborough approves science museum loan with warning: that’s it

TAMPA – Hillsborough County Commissioners gave their own arithmetic class at a museum that touts its science, technology, engineering and math education – $ 250,000 is better than nothing.

Commissioners told officials at the Fowler Avenue Science and Industry Museum that their request to operate a county reserve account would be the last document until the museum develops a stand-alone business plan.

“I recognize that we must now extend the lifeline,” said Commissioner Harry Cohen. “The demands that will be imposed on us by many of our cultural institutions will be enormous. It will just be a limit to what we can do. “

The museum had requested $ 400,000 from a reserve account of $ 800,000 created specifically for the facility. Under normal circumstances, the account is used by the museum as a line of credit to assist with seasonal fluctuations in cash flow and must be repaid within one year.

On Wednesday, the commission agreed to change the repayment schedule, allowing the museum to reimburse the county when it plans to become profitable again in 2023. But, on a 5-2 vote with commission chairman Pat Kemp and commissioner Dissenting Mariella Smith, Council followed Commissioner Stacy White’s lead in reducing the allowance request to $ 250,000.

Kemp, who sits on the museum’s board, had argued for the full amount.

“It’s too valuable and too wonderful an asset not to have in this community,” Kemp said.

But others were more skeptical. Without a viable business plan, “reserves are only used to chain an organization doomed to failure,” said Commissioner Kimberly Overman.

The Museum of Science and Industry saw its operating income drop nearly 40% amid the 2020 coronavirus pandemic. By the end of the fiscal year on September 30, 2020, revenues had declined to a just over $ 2 million from their 2019 level of $ 3.36 million.

Its spending remained stable at just under $ 3 million, meaning that a surplus of $ 390,000 in 2019 translated into a deficit of $ 925,000 for 2020.

The red ink reversed what had been a three-year trend of operating profitably after the museum closed for four months in 2017 to lay off employees, reconfigure the space it needed and make other changes.

Related: On the verge of closing permanently, MOSI made a profit in 2017

The museum’s financial projections predicted continued but declining deficits for the next two years before breaking even in 2023.

Hillsborough County already provides $ 624,000 per year for museum operations and approximately $ 200,000 per year for the maintenance of county-owned buildings.

The county had sought redevelopment proposals for the 74-acre site, but halted that process in December amid economic uncertainty over the coronavirus pandemic.

Kemp called a strong science and industry museum a key part of the North Tampa area revitalization effort.

Related: Commission approves progress of MOSI catalyst plan

Separately, the commission also extended the deadline for the Tampa Innovation Alliance, Inc. to complete its business development plan for the Uptown Innovation District, the sustainable high-tech quadrant planned between Highways 275 and 75 and from Bearss Avenue to Busch. Boulevard. Projects worth $ 2.4 billion are planned in the region, including owned by the Museum of Science and Industry, the University of South Florida, the H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center and the former University Mall. , now renamed and undergoing redevelopment as Rithm At Uptown.

The county, city of Tampa and the alliance have agreed to share the district’s $ 2 million start-up costs. The business development plan was initially expected to be concluded by the end of 2020. Commissioners moved the deadline to December 31, 2021 on Wednesday, but Mark Sharpe, executive director of the Tampa Innovation Alliance, said he expected that the plan be completed between April and June.

The pandemic has presented challenges ranging from convening the plan’s task force to “even our hypothesis on the demand for office space and the like,” Sharpe told the Tampa Bay Times earlier this week.

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