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Burbank Funds Needed to Keep Open Mall Museum

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The cash-strapped Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County has offered to keep open its struggling satellite branch in the Media City Center mall, but only if the city of Burbank is willing to contribute $300,000 each year.

Burbank City Councilwoman Susan Spanos said committing city funds to the museum will be “a very difficult decision.”

“I think we have a tremendous interest in trying to keep the museum alive, because it is a great educational resource,” said Spanos. “But the problem is that it would not be a one-time cost, and we do not have a $300,000 surplus lying around every year.”

Since it opened with much fanfare on May 1, 1993, the two-story, $2-million museum-in-a-mall has been frequented by local students and seniors, but county officials say it has failed to draw enough public support to justify keeping it open.

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Last year, about 61,000 tickets were sold--enough to cover only half the museum’s operating budget of about $325,000, and officials had given notice of their intention to close the facility and vacate the building by Jan. 21.

Still, county officials said they hope the museum can be saved.

“Everyone who visits the museum thinks it’s wonderful, but the problem is that not enough people go there to make it worth our investment,” said James R. Gilman, vice president of the County Natural History Museum Foundation, the fund-raising arm of the museum. “Our hope is to find a way both to keep it open and to get more people to come.”

The Natural History Museum is among a handful of groups that have submitted proposals to the city of Burbank for the future use of the museum building. Under the county proposal, the city would pay $250,000 for the museum’s operations, plus $50,000 for marketing and promotion. Any addition costs would be covered by the museum’s nonprofit foundation, Gilman said.

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The museum building is owned by mall developer Alexander Haagen Co. and controlled by the Burbank Redevelopment Agency under a long-term lease. Tuesday was the last day for groups interested in leasing the property to submit proposals.

Other parties interested in the site include a musical theater guild from Toluca Lake.

Bidders will make presentations to the City Council on Dec. 19, and the council is expected to decide in January or February which group will lease the building, said John Ornelas, the city’s redevelopment administrator.

The Burbank museum is one of four satellites of the Natural History Museum and the only one threatened with closure. The announcement earlier this year that it would be shut down followed several years of drastic county budget cuts to museums. Since opening, the Burbank museum has hosted exhibits on insects, Native American artifacts, marine life, dinosaurs and other subjects.

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