Local News

Wake Commissioners Hear Pleas To Continue Exploris Funding

Posted September 20, 2004

— Wake County commissioners met Monday to try to figure out how to get downtown Raleigh's

Exploris

museum back on track financially.

The meeting comes on the heels of a disappointing showing for the "China on Tour" exhibit, which only brought in about 35,000 people. The same exhibit in Cleveland attracted 75,000 visitors and in Mobile, Ala., 127,000 visitors.

"There's not excitement. It's not interesting," Wake County Commissioner Joe Bryan said.

"They have made mistakes," Wake County Commissioner Herb Council said.

At the meeting, Wake commissioners listened to the case for continued public funding. The newly revamped Exploris board promised to meet their mission to bring in better exhibits, reduce the debt and raise more private cash.

"It's pretty clear in business you have to project numbers and then make them and that would be our expectation for the management of the museum," said Bill Johnson, Exploris board chairman.

Empty hallways are the reason critics contend Exploris is not offering enough return for the more than $50 million invested by taxpayers.

"We've put in a good effort, but I do believe we should cut our losses and move forward. The space could be converted to a productive use," said Tony Gurley, a Wake County commissioner.

Supporters say that is already happening.

"Critics aggravate only to the extent that they don't seem to understand the importance of the museum," said Sen. Vernon Malone, D-Wake County.

Even with an IMAX theatre and special exhibits, the museum's attendance is less than desirable.

"I don't feel comfortable voting to fund an organization that keeps its finances and its plans secret," Gurley said.

Gurley sought to cut off public support for the struggling museum. He also questioned how fellow commissioners like Herb Council and Kenn Gardner could vote on funding since they also serve on the Exploris board. A legal opinion cleared the conflict of interest.

Gurley and Phil Jeffries voted no on more money. The majority of commissioners voted yes, unwilling to give up on Exploris just yet.

"Let's get the best minds together to create something that's going to be successful. It hasn't been successful in the past," Bryan said.

"We have a $30 million investment. Why would we not want to help them be successful rather than put a cloud over their heads," Commissioner Betty Lou Ward said.

There is state legislation in the works that asks for $3.5 million to partner the museum with another. There is also talk of adding a public library branch.

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