Editor's Note: This article first appeared in the Daily Press on Dec. 12, 2011.
The troubled Virginia Air and Space Center in downtown Hampton has been racking up losses for the last four years and its deficit has now reached more than $3 million, according to auditors reports.
Those financial reports highlight the scale of the challenge ahead for Brian DeProfio, interim director at the center, and for the Foundation of the Virginia Air and Space Center, the private nonprofit company that runs it.
The tipping point might come this month when the facility is scheduled to pay an outstanding $2.1 million loan to SunTrust bank, according to a September 2011 audit.
DeProfio said Monday the SunTrust note is still outstanding.
Hampton spokeswoman Robin McCormick said the city of Hampton is not a party to the SunTrust note and has "no authority or responsibility for the Virginia Air & Space Center board, except to appoint some of the members."
"While the Air & Space Center building and some of the exhibits are owned by the city of Hampton, the city does not manage or operate the center," McCormick said Nov. 30.
Compounding the financial issues at the center is the fact that its visitor numbers are down. They dropped below 400,000 for the first time in 11 years in 2010-11, according to figures supplied by DeProfio.
Attendance was stable in 2009 at 401,125. The next year, 402,169 people visited the museum. However, the numbers dipped to 344,775 this year "as a result of our economy and competition in the market..." DeProfio said in an email.
Some of the dip is being blamed on the fact that another IMAX theater opened in Hampton at the Towne Center, and the museum's own IMAX theater was closed to upgrade it to digital.
The financial and attendance struggles at the Air & Space Center come months before it is slated to celebrate its 20th year in 2012.
DeProfio has outlined a series of events, including two new IMAX films, aimed at bringing visitors back to the center. He has high hopes. "…The economy is impacting everyone, but the center has a strong, 20-year track record of success," DeProfio wrote in an email to the Daily Press.
The financial issues facing the Center have been building for years but there's been little public discussion about that until recently.
In a presentation to the Hampton City Council in September 2010, then executive director Todd Bridgford gave a glowing report to council members. "We have finished our 15th year operating in the black," he said, presenting figures showing income of about $5.4 million and expenses of $5.32 million leaving a surplus of approximately $80,000. But that equation did not include outstanding loans and debts.