MOBILE, Ala. (WPMI) The Gulfquest Maritime Museum is expected to open by the end of 2013. The city has invested upwards of $38 million in the project, all the while struggling to cover a multi-million dollar budget shortfall. So now that the money is spent, how will the museum stay afloat once it's open for business? We take a look.
City Councilman John Williams voiced questions about the museum's feasibility early on.
"I think the projections that would be required, the numbers, the attendance, is mind boggling," Williams said.
Gulfquest Executive Director Tony Zodrow said daily operations of them museum will cost about $4 million a year. "We'll have a lot of different revenue streams coming together to provide that operating support, primarily admissions," Zodrow said.
The price of admission has not been set yet, but Zodrow said he expects it to be comparable to ticket prices at the Exploreum. There, a full price adult ticket including Imax access is $16.
Using the Exploreum's $16 ticket price as a model, it would take 250,000 visitors per year to bring in the $4 million required to operate. Zodrow said a feasibility study done prior to construction predicted Gulfquest would see ticket sales of 300,000 a year.
Not everyone is so confident.
"I wish I could say that I am hopeful we would reach it," Councilman Williams said, "but I'm not."
The Exploreum, located directly adjacent to Gulfquest's site, doesn't come close to bringing in 250,000 visitors a year. In fact, it has reached that threshold only once in its history. In 2011, attendance was just under 144,000.
The U.S.S. Alabama has higher attendance numbers, with 240,573 visitors in 2011. Still, it doesn't regularly draw more than a quarter million people annually.
Gulfquest will have other revenue sources aside from ticket sales. Zodrow said private contributors have pledged nearly $9.5 million. The museum also hopes to rent out space for parties and events. Zodrow points out most museums aren't in business to turn a profit.
"Any maritime museum in the country, they're not completely self-sustaining," he said. "The revenue they earn is not enough to cover operating costs."
The Exploreum, for example, receives an additional $400,000 a year in funding from the city. No such money is in the city's budget for the Exploreum.
"The Gulfquest museum operation is really done by the board over there," said Mobile Mayor Sam Jones. "Our part is construction. Once we finished construction the entire operation is really financed by the board over there."
Mobile taxpayers will be on the hook for future maintenance and upkeep.
"Keep in mind that when the city builds the building, they are ultimately responsible for the long term maintenance and care of the building. They own it," Zodrow said.
Unforseen holdups in the building process have tacked on additional costs, like a delay in construction after flooding and a mold problem discovered just this month. The mold problem has been remedied, but the city is still trying to figure out how much it'll cost them after insurance comes into play.
"The insurance is already there on the building, and we're trying to see what part of that the insurance will cover," Jones said.
Like it or leave it, Gulfquest will soon be a reality. It'll be up to the museum's board to operate within its means. Zodrow promises it won't be a future burden on taxpayers.
"You really have to be aggressive in terms of marketing, bringing in exhibitions that draw people back to Gulfquest over time," Zodrow said. "That'll be the key for us."
"Like it or not, we've got it. It's time for us all to come together and figure out a way to make it work," Williams added.