Exploris chief quitting

By Todd Cohen

RALEIGH, N.C. – Anne Bryan will step down in June as president of Exploris, the children’s museum she helped found that has raised more than $50 million in public and private funds but remains $5 million in debt.

Bryan, a former state employee who drew criticism for remaining on the state payroll and increasing her state retirement benefits after becoming president of the nonprofit museum, will continue to serve as a board member.

The board is forming a committee to oversee a national search for a new president, and hopes to hire an industry veteran with international experience, says Bill Johnson, chair of the Exploris board and president and chief operating officer for Progress Energy.

The board hopes to fill the job “as soon as possible,” he says.

“The museum has some challenges, and the resolution of those challenges will require full-time leadership,” he says.

Above all, the new president will need to be “someone who understands museum attractions and what brings people in the door,” he says. “Second would be someone who has a demonstrated ability to do some fundraising and knows how to do this on an ongoing basis.”

Bryan, who helped found the museum with Gordon Smith III and has served as its president for 11 years, says it is “good when the time is right for the founders to give way.”

Bryan and Smith, who resigned as board chair last fall as part of a board overhaul, both were under growing pressure to depart in the face of disappointing attendance at the museum, which opened in October 1999 and has an international focus.

“I think it will be new energy and new perspective, and that’s really a healthy thing to have happen,” Bryan says. “There certainly still are a lot of challenges, but the balance is on the momentum we’re building.”

Bryan says she wants to spend more time with her family and is “excited about where I stand and where Exploris stands, and unless the two had come together, I wouldn’t be doing this.”

Attendance, which totaled 227,000 in the fiscal year ended last June 30, grew 26 percent in the six months through last Dec. 31 compared to the same period the previous year, she says.

In that most-recent six-month period, net income totaled $905,000 on income of $3.55 million, compared to net income of $865,000 on income of $3.22 million in the same period the previous year, says Rod Brooks, vice president for administration.

While those numbers reflect operations both at the museum and Exploris’ middle school, operations at the museum account for the entire increase in income and net income, Brooks says.

The revenue budget for the combined operation in the current fiscal year totals nearly $6.1 million, including nearly $4.8 million for the museum, which employs the full-time equivalent of 51.25 positions.

The middle school employs the full-time equivalent of another 17.25 positions.

In the current fiscal year, Exploris has raised $51,000 in private suport, compared to a goal of $325,000 its board set in a long-range plan it adopted last year.

Based on that plan, which calls for Exploris to raise up to $13.5 million over four years to retire its debt and boost operations, exhibits and attendance, the Wake County Board of Commissioners has approved giving Exploris $1.355 million this fiscal year.

Exploris’ board is looking for a chair for its new foundation, which will lead an effort to raise $1.46 million in the fiscal year that begins July 1.

Exploris also is negotiating with Wachovia, RBC Centura and BB&T to restructure $5 million in outstanding debt on which it has paid only interest, Johnson says.

“More people are coming and we are bringing more revenue into the museum,” he says. “We have not, however, resolved our bank debt issues, and that’s probably the biggest short-term hurdle in our plan.”

He says Bryan “is leaving of her own volition.”

When he first talked to her last year about his joining the board, he says, Bryan told him she “wanted to get a long-range plan in place and then think about stepping down.”

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