Make us your home page
Instagram

MOSI to close most of its building, IMAX to save money before move to downtown Tampa

The Museum of Science and Industry will be reduced from its 300,000-square-foot campus to just 40,000 square feet during summer.

SKIP O’ROURKE | Times (2015)

The Museum of Science and Industry will be reduced from its 300,000-square-foot campus to just 40,000 square feet during summer.

TAMPA — The Museum of Science and Industry will close most of its building at the end of summer, a drastic step toward getting the museum's troubled finances under control as it prepares for a potential move downtown.

The museum's original, 37-year-old structure will shutter, perhaps for good, after Aug. 13, museum leaders said Thursday. The IMAX Dome Theatre will shut down as well. Any exhibits that are not eliminated will move into the newer Kids in Charge wing of the building. The ropes course will remain open.

The museum, known as MOSI, will close for several months as exhibits are shuffled with plans to reopen in the fall. About 85 percent of the building will remain closed.

The announcement comes as the museum continues to position itself for a move to downtown Tampa and the development of Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik and Bill Gates' Cascade Investment. The goal is to open the new building in 2022, according to Thursday's announcement.

MOSI's board voted on the closures during a meeting Tuesday. Reorganizing MOSI now will help its leaders, partners and the community prepare and plan for a smaller footprint in the urban core, said incoming MOSI board chairman Robert Thomas.

Museum consultants have consistently suggested to MOSI leaders that bigger is not better and that downtown museums thrive in a constrained, well-utilized space.

"We see this as a step toward a very exciting future for MOSI," said Thomas, the chief executive of Two Rivers Ranch. "We see it as a new beginning and not really an end for anything. We're continuing to provide the MOSI mission for the community."

Layoffs are imminent, Thomas acknowledged, though he wouldn't say how many people may lose their jobs. The future of a major traveling exhibit planned for this year also is uncertain.

Thursday's news is the second major shakeup at the museum this year, following the resignation of president and CEO Molly Demeulenaere in March. Chief financial officer Julian Mackenzie has assumed the duties of executive officer and will hold that position indefinitely, Thomas said.

A smaller museum will mean lower ticket prices. It will also mean less in expenses — key for a museum that finished 2016 with a $1.3 million deficit.

Declining ticket sales have hampered day-to-day operations at the current site on E Fowler Avenue across from the University of South Florida. As of January, MOSI owed vendors $1 million.

MOSI's board is working with its donors and Hillsborough County, which owns MOSI's building and the land it sits on, to retire the debt and operate in the black.

"By eliminating that massive amount of overhead and streamlining our operation, it's our intent to continue to operate at break-even," Thomas said.

Vinik's nonprofit charity, the Vinik Family Foundation, will have a seat at the table as the museum plans its next steps. It's the latest sign that Vinik is increasingly involved in MOSI's operations in advance of its move to his development with Cascade. Last year, the museum's board added two of Vinik's close associates.

"MOSI is taking an important step today that will enable them to see their vision of a downtown science center come to fruition," Vinik said in a statement. The foundation, he said, "is taking an active role in conversations with the transition task force about how best to move forward and looks forward to working with our partners and the larger community."

Once dubbed the largest science center in the southeast on a sprawling 300,000 square-foot campus across nearly 80 acres, the museum will be relegated to just 40,000 square feet during this transition.

The cost of operating the remaining space will shift to Hillsborough County taxpayers, unless the county can find someone to take it over.

County Administrator Mike Merrill acknowledged that if utilities and other expenses were unaffordable for MOSI, "it's going to be a problem for anyone else."

Merrill said there are no plans for MOSI to tap into its line of credit with the county. That could change if financial inflexibility from its debt prevents the museum from operating successfully under this new model.

"We want them to succeed in this new format," Merrill said.

The main MOSI building opened in north Tampa in 1982 and for much of its life was open seven days a week for families, school groups and tourists. It has served as the longtime home of Disasterville, an interactive weather exhibit that was heralded in its heyday but in its twilight years has grown outdated and frequently in need of repairs.

At its peak, the original structure hosted the captivating but controversial "Bodies" exhibit. The buzz generated by the display of human bodies — later determined to be unclaimed remains, not donated cadavers — lasted for months, filling the spacious hall. But the success of "Bodies'' could not be replicated, and subsequent traveling exhibits likely lost the museum money, a 2014 audit said.

The IMAX Dome Theatre opened in 1996 and in recent years has generated considerable revenue for showings of blockbusters like Star Wars: The Force Awakens. But maintenance for the theater was costly, and the museum had recently put on hold plans to update the technology.

Whether the IMAX theater will accompany the museum downtown is one of many decisions still unresolved.

"There's always some sense of nostalgia involved in transition," Thomas said. "But it's the next logical step for us to take in our move downtown, to trim up the operations and get it into a sustainable business model."

Contact Steve Contorno at scontorno@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3433. Follow @scontorno.

MOSI to close most of its building, IMAX to save money before move to downtown Tampa 05/18/17 [Last modified: Friday, May 19, 2017 8:27am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Memorial Day sales not enough to draw shoppers to Tampa Bay malls

    Retail

    TAMPA — Memorial Day sales at Tampa Bay area malls were not enough to compete with the beach and backyard barbecues this holiday weekend.

    Memorial Day sales weren't enough to draw shoppers to Tampa Bay area malls over the long weekend. 
[JUSTINE GRIFFIN | Times]
  2. Austin software company acquires second Tampa business

    Corporate

    Austin, Tex.-based Asure Software acquired Tampa's Compass HRM Inc. late last week for $6 million. Compass focuses on HR and payroll.

    [Company photo]
  3. Hackers hide cyberattacks in social media posts

    Business

    SAN FRANCISCO — It took only one attempt for Russian hackers to make their way into the computer of a Pentagon official. But the attack didn't come through an email or a file buried within a seemingly innocuous document.

    Jay Kaplan and Mark Kuhr, former NSA employees and co-founders of Synack, a cybersecurity company, in their office in Palo Alto, Calif., in 2013. While last year's hacking of senior Democratic Party officials raised awareness of the damage caused if just a handful of employees click on the wrong emails, few people realize that a message on Twitter or Facebook could give an attacker similar access to their system. 
[New York Times file photo]
  4. Big rents and changing tastes drive dives off St. Pete's 600 block

    Music & Concerts

    ST. PETERSBURG — Kendra Marolf was behind the lobby bar of the State Theatre, pouring vodka sodas for a weeknight crowd packed tight for Bishop Briggs, the latest alternative artist to sell out her club.

    Sam Picciano, 25, left, of Tampa and Molly Cord 24, Palm Harbor shop for record albums for a friend at Daddy Kool Records located on the 600 block of Central Avenue in St. Petersburg, Florida on Saturday, May 20, 2017. OCTAVIO JONES   |   Times
  5. How Hollywood is giving its biggest stars digital facelifts

    Business

    LOS ANGELES — Johnny Depp is 53 years old but he doesn't look a day over 26 in the new "Pirates of the Caribbean" movie — at least for a few moments. There was no plastic surgeon involved, heavy makeup or archival footage used to take the actor back to his boyish "Cry Baby" face, however. It's all …

    This combination of photos released by Disney, shows the character Jack Sparrow at two stages of his life in "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales."  Johnny Depp, who portrays the character, is the latest mega-star to get the drastic de-aging treatment on screen
[Disney via Associated Press]