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Published: Thursday, 3/4/2004

COSI Toledo still mulling levy

Travis Roach experiments with a gyroscope as the Toledo COSI on Wheels visits Jackman Road Elementary. Travis Roach experiments with a gyroscope as the Toledo COSI on Wheels visits Jackman Road Elementary.

The solid defeat Tuesday of a levy requested by the COSI science museum in Columbus has not discouraged officials at Toledo s COSI from considering a similar tax proposal here.

Jim Hoffman, vice chairman of the local COSI board, said any such proposal in Toledo likely would involve less money and include other cultural and arts organizations, not just the science museum.

“These are two totally different situations,” Mr. Hoffman said.

Both Mr. Hoffman and Bill Booth, COSI Toledo s executive director, noted that a levy for Cincinnati s Museum Center passed comfortably Tuesday, while Cleveland voters narrowly defeated a levy for arts and economic development. The 62 percent negative vote in Columbus can t be looked at in isolation, they said.

“We look at both of those too,” Mr. Booth said. On that basis, he said, some sort of combined levy proposal, covering several cultural institutions, seems the way to go.

Mr. Hoffman said a levy request could appear on the local ballot as soon as this fall.

COSI, one of downtown Toledo s major attractions, has made an operating profit in only three of the seven years since its 1997 opening, and if building and exhibit depreciation is added in, it always has been deep in the red. Last year, its operations ran a $98,000 deficit, according to revenue documents filed last month with the federal government.

Admission receipts and other visitor-generated revenue cover about 75 percent of COSI Toledo s $3.3 million budget, which is one of the highest rates for a science museum, Mr. Booth said. For now, he said, corporate and private donations have provided the rest of COSI s funding.

Depending so much on the gate and corporate support makes COSI Toledo vulnerable to factors like economic downturns and terrorist scares that can discourage tourist travel, reducing attendance and curtailing how much visitors spend in the cafeteria or gift shop.

“What we don t have, that most science centers have, is public support,” Mr. Booth said, citing a national average of 20 percent funding from direct taxes or public grants.

COSI Toledo has responded to its deficits by cutting the budget 20 percent over the last 18 months, Mr. Booth said.

The levy request in Columbus was for a five-year, 0.5-mill tax that would have generated $12.4 million a year. Had the levy passed, Franklin County residents would have been granted free admission, while out-of-towners would have continued to pay up to $12 a person. COSI Columbus has a $15 million annual budget.

The 0.2-mill Cincinnati museum levy got a 64 percent favorable vote, while the 0.7-mill levy for arts and economic development programs in Cuyahoga County fell by a margin of 54 percent to 46 percent.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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