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On borrowed time

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Exploris has last chance to prove market value.

By Todd Cohen

[05.25.04] – After soaking taxpayers and donors for more than $50 million, the Exploris children’s museum in Raleigh still has a chance to justify the investment.

Wake County Manager David Cooke has proposed trimming county support, and appropriating only one-third of county funds when the fiscal year begins July 1.

To get the rest, Exploris’ board would have to write a business plan showing how it will parlay its current “China” exhibit into a series of big shows that will sell tickets and attract donors.

Gordon Smith, Exploris’ founder and board chair, initially won philanthropic and government support for his idea through his “old Raleigh” connections and before having to prove its value in the marketplace.

But after a few laps, Exploris has proven lame.

It never clicked with kids, yet its board will not concede its underlying flaws, replace its leadership, retool its content or forge innovative marketing partnerships.

Instead, Exploris has hitched its hopes to an IMAX theater and big “China,” show, undertakings consuming even more investment.

Cooke wants to give Exploris’ board a chance to show it has learned from its mistakes, and can fix what it is wrong.

If it cannot, the county should unplug Exploris from its taxpayer-funded life-support system.

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