San Fernando Valley's Children's Museum gets $11.8 million lifeline from L.A. City Council

Los Angeles, California. Los Angeles Daily News. April 11, 2012. (English). Facing a looming deadline to open the Children’s Museum of Los Angeles, the City Council on Wednesday unanimously approved an $11.8 million financing package for the stalled San Fernando Valley center.

The financing plan, which includes an agreement with Orange County-based Discovery Science Center to build exhibits, comes as the city scrambles to finish the nearly completed museum by the 2015 opening deadline set by the state.

If the city fails to open the Lake View Terrace museum, it would be forced to return up to $16 million in funds.

Additionally, Discovery Science Center officials are hoping to take advantage of a window to receive $10 million in federal grants to operate the museum. But that funding can’t be doled out until the city signs off on the financing deal with the center.

“The project is at a critical juncture,” Bernyce Hollins, with the Chief Administrative Office, told council members at Wednesday’s hearing.

The museum was first proposed in 2000 as a $10 million public-private partnership. But the price tag ballooned to more than $50 million and the city ended up taking ownership of the nearly completed museum in 2009 after the Children’s Museum of Los Angeles filed for bankruptcy.

The bankruptcy was one of numerous financial setbacks for the museum, which at one point was promised a $10 million donation from a Sherman Oaks businessman. But the funds never materialized and the man was later accused of investor fraud.

Under the city’s deal approved Wednesday, the museum will receive $7 million in Proposition K park funds approved by voters in 1996 and some other state funds. The city is also borrowing $4.7 million in funds, to be paid back with interest.

Joe Adams, president of the Discovery Science Center, who attended the hearing, said the city’s continued support of the sometimes flailing project, is significant.

“The fact that this will be the first public museum in San Fernando Valley shows how hard it is to get off the ground,” Adams said.

When and if it opens, the museum’s operating costs will be paid for by a mixture of ticket sales and private donations, Adams said. The ticketing price for the museum will be in the $8-$14 range, he predicted.

Jack Shakely, president emeritus of the California Community Foundation, who led the search for a new site for the Children’s Museum of Los Angeles in the early 1990s, was pleased to hear plans were moving forward.

The original Children’s Museum of Los Angeles, located near City Hall, shut down after in 2000 as backers looked for a bigger space, a process that’s taken more than a decade.

“It’s been a bad luck project for a long time,” Shakely said. “Everyone involved with the project has had bad luck.”

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