After more than a decade of setbacks, the effort to reopen the Children’s Museum of Los Angeles might finally be moving forward.
The troubled project, which has been plagued by funding shortfalls and a bankruptcy filing, now has a financing plan in place and an agreement with the Discovery Science Center in Santa Ana to operate the Lakeview Terrace museum.
City officials in Los Angeles expect to learn next week whether the Discovery Science Center will receive $9.2 million in federal grants and tax incentives to run the museum – one of the final hurdles to clear. Under a financing plan approved by the City Council in April, the children’s museum will receive $7 million in state bond funds and take out $4.7 million in loans. The $21 million total is expected to cover the cost of opening.
“I anticipate that the children’s museum will open up under the management of Discovery Science Center,” said Councilman Richard Alarcon. “It’s been a very difficult challenge, to say the least, but we refuse to say no.”
If the federal grants are approved, the science center plans to begin building exhibits for the currently empty museum building next to the Hansen Dam Recreation Center in east San Fernando Valley. The opening is planned for May 2015.
In a presentation to the City Council in April, science center leaders proposed permanent interactive museum exhibits on environment, health and science-related topics. They also expect to display rotating exhibits on topics such as robots and Mars.
Alarcon said the museum would generate 150 full- and part-time jobs.
First opened in 1979, the children’s museum was in a cramped space in downtown Los Angeles for more than two decades. In 2000, city leaders closed the museum in anticipation of building a new, larger replacement in the Valley.
But the cost of construction ballooned and by 2007, museum leaders were struggling to secure critical donations.
That’s when a charitable organization backed by Sherman Oaks businessman Bruce Friedman pledged $10 million to revive the stalled project. He gave about $3 million of the pledge. But when his company collapsed in 2009 amid allegations of fraud, he didn’t come through with the rest of the money. As a result, the non-profit entity behind the museum was forced to file for bankruptcy – once again throwing the museum’s fate into limbo.
“That project just seemed to be under a dark cloud,” said Cecilia Aguilera Glassman, the former chief executive of the museum.
Last year, the project faced yet another setback when the state rejected a request for a $7 million grant.
As Alarcon put it, “Most people assumed the children’s museum was dead.”
But city officials recently worked out the management agreement with the science center, which the councilman called a major step in the effort to revive the project.
“That compelled us forward,” he said. “Once they were on board, the mayor and I just felt this was going to happen.”
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