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Published: Thursday, 11/9/2006

COSI seeks interim financial solution

BY JENNI LAIDMAN
BLADE STAFF WRITER

COSI Toledo's board of directors said yesterday they are hoping the city and Lucas County can provide $300,000 to $400,000 to help the downtown children's museum survive long enough to find a long-term solution to its financial crisis.

A 0.167-mill, five-year levy for the hands-on science museum was defeated by just 1,605 votes out of the 137,915 votes cast on the issue Tuesday, according to unofficial results. Those results do not include about 3,000 provisional ballots.

The museum's proposed levy, which would have resulted in property tax of $5.11 a year for the owner of a $100,000 home, was approved by 49.42 percent of voters, but was rejected by 50.58 percent.

"We did much better than I had originally thought,'' said Dr. F. Michael Walsh, chairman of the COSI board. "Unfortunately, we still lost. Now we have to figure out how to handle that.''

Dr. Walsh said the museum along the Maumee River at Summit and Adams streets will "run out of cash at the end of the year. Nothing has changed there.''

The board is hoping for short-term financial assistance from local government of between $300,000 and $400,000, which could get COSI through the revenue-poor months of January and February and perhaps allow it to survive long enough to find a funding solution - perhaps through another levy vote.

But with no countywide elections anticipated in Lucas County until 2008, a special election would likely be too expensive for COSI to host alone.

Off-year, countywide elections can cost in excess of $100,000, said Mark Luetke, whose marketing firm, Funk Luetke Skunda, advises the museum.

A spokesman for Mayor Carty Finkbeiner, who waited until Monday to publicly announce his endorsement for the museum's levy request, told The Blade yesterday afternoon that the city plans to help COSI by putting the museum under its liability insurance coverage.

Mayoral spokesman Brian Schwartz said he did not know what that move would save the children's museum.

The savings could be in the range of $60,000 to $70,000, depending on the specifics of the coverage, said Jim Mihaly, acting chief operating officer for COSI.

Dr. Walsh said the city probably is not offering to foot the entire insurance bill, but is instead proposing to allow COSI to benefit from a lower rate by being grouped with city buildings. If that is the case, the move would probably save the museum about $35,000, he said.

About $25,000 of that savings could come in the nick of time, because the musuem has an insurance policy down payment due soon.

County Commissioners Pete Gerken and Tina Skeldon Wozniak said yesterday they want to do what they can to help the museum survive, but they made no financial commitments.

"We've got to act. We've got to think quickly,'' Ms. Wozniak said. "I deeply care about COSI, and I deeply care about what it has to offer.''

"I'm not sure what the county could do, but I'm very open to sitting down with Dr. Walsh and seeing if there's anything we can do on several levels,'' Commissioner Gerken said.

Commissioner-elect Ben Konop, who was elected Tuesday to replace Maggie Thurber in January, could not be reached for comment last night.

After a closed-door meeting yesterday afternoon, the COSI board's executive committee decided that the museum must look at all its options before deciding what direction to take.

The museum laid off six full-time and two part-time employees in February, a move it said would save $300,000 annually in salary and benefits from an operating budget that totaled $3.2 million for the fiscal year that ended in June.

Contact Jenni Laidman at:

jenni@theblade.com or

419-724-6507.



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