Saturday, August 28, 1999

Museum Center shocked by $2.3M deficit

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Shocked by a $2.3 million deficit for the 1998-99 fiscal year — despite its highest attendance in history — Cincinnati Museum Center's new President and CEO Douglass McDonald says he is turning his focus to the future.

        “I'm studying the operations. I've done some reorganization. Now the focus is on planning and putting more focus on how we can gather a broader base of public support.

        “What happened last year is not acceptable to any of us,” said Mr. McDonald, who has been on the job since April.

        Visitors will notice one change: Single admission tickets will be raised $1, from $5.50 to $6.50.

        The Museum Center is home to Cincinnati History Museum, Cinergy Children's Museum, the Museum of Natural History & Science and the Robert D. Lindner Family Omnimax Theater in the former Union Terminal. Management anticipated a deficit of $750,000 because of start-up expenses for the Children's Museum, which opened in October.

        Fund-raising fell $500,000 short because of the capital campaign the museum was conducting for the new Children's Museum. Raising mon ey for the new museum made it difficult to get contributions in the annual fund-raiser for operating expenses.

        In addition, Omnimax films generated $600,000 less than expected. Unbudgeted capital expenses occurred, such as signs to guide visitors through the cavernous terminal and making the computer system Y2K-compliant.

        “The deficit surprised everybody,” said DeVere Burt,

        one of the two founding directors of the Museum Center and a member of the Museum Center Board of Trustees.

        “I think the institutions are operating very responsibly, but the building has produced some extraordinary expenses. Getting your hands around half a million square feet of retrofitted building is a big problem.”

        While the revenue stream dropped from fund-raising, movie admissions, the dropping of the popular Halloween attraction Boofest, gift shop profits and parking, the museums saw record attendance.

        “Our membership base has expanded by over 5,000, from 13,000 to 18,000. We had over 1 million visitors last year,” Mr. McDonald said.

        In October, the board will talk about options available.

        “There are lots of things on the table,” said Meg Olberding, director of public relations. “There is no agenda, no laundry list. It's too soon.”

        In the meantime, Boofest will return Oct. 9. In 1997, its attendance was 30,000.

        The next Omnimax film, Island of the Sharks, is expected to be highly popular. Opening Oct. 23, it is a sequel to Sharks, was one of the most well-attended Omnimax films.

        New exhibits include a scale model of downtown Cincinnati complete with model trains, trolleys and inclines, already under construction.

        “Prized Possessions” opening in March, will feature the objects in the museums' collections.

        Mr. McDonald came into a difficult situation less than six months ago when he replaced Richard Glover.

        “The new director (Mr. McDonald) is doing a fine job,” Mr. Burt said. “I'm sure he'll solve the problems.”

        • Single admission tickets for each museum will be raised $1, from $5.50 to $6.50, on Sept. 7. Combination tickets on Omnimax admission are not affected.

        • The Historical Society's 56-year-old publication Queen City Heritage will be suspended after the next issue.

        • Three employees in collections and research, two in the History Museum and one in the Natural History Museum have been dismissed.

        • Cost-of-living pay increases have been eliminated for the entire staff.

        • Vacant positions will not be filled.


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