A recent article in the Detroit News covers the expected close of the Toledo Science Center at the end of this month due to lack of financial support in the community. Read statement on the web site and suggestions to help keep COSI Toledo open.
Tax defeat dooms Toledo science jewel
The O’Grady family finally made the trip from Marysville to the Toledo science museum Thursday — just in time to say goodbye.
Swarms of Michiganians have passed through COSI, the Center of Science and Industry, since it opened along the Maumee River in 1997. The museum’s first employee — still on the payroll — lives in Ann Arbor. It’s been a favorite destination for field trips, close enough to Detroit to be convenient and far enough to seem exotic to a busload of 9-year-olds.
But Lucas County voters drop-kicked a modest $1.5 million levy proposal in November, and as of 5 p.m. Monday, the last of more than 3 million visitors will leave the building, frizzy-haired from the static electricity exhibit and more learned than before. A sign of the times will hang upon the door: CLOSED.
Shawn O’Grady says she, her husband Tom and their two kids had intended for years to drive the two hours from Michigan’s Thumb to the former Portside Festival Marketplace. Back when Jonathan, 7, and his sister Kelly, 6, were home-schooled, the other home-school parents used to rave about COSI.
They were right, O’Grady says. “It’s top-notch,” a clever blend of science, education and hands-on entertainment.
It’s also proof that sometimes, when a cultural institution cries “Wolf,” there’s a snarling canis lupus nearby, ready to pounce.
DIA, zoo feel pinch
Public funding is an ever-present topic in the world of zoos, museums and symphonies, the places that make cities richer by their existence but historically haven’t paid their own way.
In Detroit, the DIA recently gulped hard and instituted its first mandatory admission fee. Come fall, the Detroit Zoo will ask tri-county voters for a small property tax.
Representing a new, more corporate model, the president of Detroit’s science museum says his organization doesn’t believe in asking for taxpayer help.
“We have a mindset that we’re first and foremost a business,” says Kevin Prihod of the New Detroit Science Center. “We’re trying to operate without any city, state or federal funds. That’s the future of museums.”
COSI drew $11 million from the state of Ohio when it opened, but never used public money to operate, making its way instead with admission fees, memberships, donations and retail sales. When the museum asked for help in 2006, voters said no, by only 1,248 votes out of 141,000 cast. Last month, voters spoke even more firmly, with a difference of nearly 1,700 votes in an election with a turnout of only 85,000.
“We were all very hopeful,” says Lori Hauser, COSI’s director of operations. She’d spent four or five weekends going house-to-house, pushing a plan that would have added $5.21 per year to the taxes on a $100,000 home.
More than 90 percent of all science centers receive some sort of public funding, she’d tell whoever answered the door. But in an increasingly difficult economy, voters weren’t interested in explaining inertia to schoolkids, even at less than the cost of a movie ticket.
Prihod says the problem museums face is getting customers — not voters — to recognize their value. “These institutions have phenomenal offerings,” he points out. “Why would people pay three, four or five times as much to go to Sea World as they’ll pay to go to the zoo and have this day-long, rich experience?”