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In the hole – $5M debt

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By Todd Cohen

RALEIGH, N.C. – Exploris, the Raleigh children’s museum that has raised nearly $50 million, is still struggling financially and going back to the well for more private and public support.

Needing to repay $5 million in bank loans in the face of declining attendance, Exploris has begun the quiet phase of an $8.5 million capital campaign and is seeking $1.5 million more from Wake County, which already pays $750,000 a year to help maintain the museum complex.

The museum, which opened in October 1999, previously has raised $29.5 million from Raleigh and Wake County, $13.2 million in private contributions and $7.2 million from the state, says Anne Bryan, the museum’s president.

The museum’s new campaign already has secured an additional $1.5 million privately.

Bryan says Exploris’ financial performance is on track and that the museum simply borrowed $5 million from banks to help cover startup costs, including the first few years of operation.

Exploris did not try to raise the money to cover some of those costs in its initial campaign, Bryan says, because the museum instead was focusing its attention on lobbying for public funding for the new IMAX theater it will open this fall.

Raleigh and Wake County total support so far includes $11.9 million from the tax on meals and prepared food to build the new theater complex

“We were totally focused on our IMAX request,” she says. “It took all of the time we would have otherwise used for our private campaign.”

She says Exploris has not studied the feasibility of its current campaign because “we feel like we know our constituents and our supporters well.”

Attendance at Exploris is expected to total 100,000 in the fiscal year that ends June 30, down from 135,000 from its opening Oct. 9, 1999, through June 30, 2000.

“In no way should that be described as a slip,” says Bryan, who expects attendance will grow to 200,000 in the year that begins July 1.

“This is what we have always anticipated,” she says. “This is the way it works with new institutions like ours. We would always expect a higher number in the first year than in the second.”

The museum’s operating budget is “totally balanced,” says Bryan, who adds that the museum “is paying off a startup debt that has nothing to do with our operating expenses.”

Exploris’ operating budget totals $5.3 million for the fiscal year that ends June 30, and will grow to $6.9 million for the fiscal year that starts July 1, she says.

Earned income accounts for 45.3 percent of this year’s budget, Bryan says, while contributed income accounts for 38.4 percent and the museum’s line of credit accounts for 16.3 percent.

For the year that begins July 1, earned income will account for 63.1 percnet and contributed income will account for 36.9 percent, Bryan says.

“We may not make that next year,” she says. “We may need to go out and raise more contributed income.”

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