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After selling building, museum seeks merger



Published: Mon, October 30, 2006 @ 12:00 a.m.



Money from the sale of the three-year-old building will pay off debts.

CLEVELAND (AP) -- HealthSpace Cleveland, considered one of the nation's first life science museums, will close at the end of the year because of financial problems and low attendance, just three years after opening a new $28 million facility, a newspaper reported.

The future of the 70-year-old museum is unclear.

Museum officials are in talks with the Cleveland Museum of Natural History about a possible merger that would preserve its $10 million endowment and continue to allow it to provide health education, The Plain Dealer reported for a story published Sunday.

The natural history board is expected to consider the issue at a meeting this week.

The museum opened in 1936 in two converted mansions. Then known as the Cleveland Health Museum, it was a popular destination for school field trips and featured exhibits on the human body, including Juno, a transparent talking woman.

Attendance and memberships dropped, though, as its attractions became outdated. The aging building also became inefficient to heat and cool.

Fundraising problems

A new 80,000-square-foot museum -- twice the size of the old one and renamed HealthSpace Cleveland -- opened in November 2003, despite problems with fundraising. The museum was able to raise only $15 million toward its original campaign goal of $26 million.

It borrowed the remainder of the money through the city of Cleveland and Cuyahoga County.

"We really did our due diligence," said Dr. Ted Castele, who has been involved in the museum since 1959 and served as board chairman from 1995 to 2003. "We think if we were to do it all over again, we'd do it the same way."

Trustees and museum executives expected revenue from increased attendance to cover the debt, the newspaper said. But the building was more expensive to operate than expected and more revenue didn't turn up. The museum also had to compete for donations and visitors with the Great Lakes Science Center downtown.

The health museum was forced to use about $600,000 a year from its endowment fund to cover its annual $2.7 million debt payment, the newspaper reported.

The health museum already has sold its new home along Euclid Avenue for $17 million to the nearby Cleveland Clinic, which is opening a nursing school there. The money made from that deal will pay back the public loans.

The fact that the new museum is closing so soon after opening is disappointing to those who gave money to the project.

"I think it is a waste of our money," said Robert Reinberger, who directs a foundation that donated $1 million toward the HealthSpace building.




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