Financially struggling Port Discovery received debt relief yesterday from city officials who agreed to allow the downtown children's museum to delay repaying $4 million in loans that were coming due in December.
The city's five-member Board of Estimates unanimously approved a request from the Baltimore Development Corp. to modify its loan agreement with Port Discovery's nonprofit operating company.
The deal allows the Baltimore Children's Museum Inc. to repay the interest-free loans by Dec. 31, 2009, instead of at the end of this year, allowing its executives time to continue on a newly implemented business plan aimed at improving Port Discovery's operations.
"We would have been in default" without the deal, said Bryn Parchman, president and chief executive of the museum company.
M.J. "Jay" Brodie, president of the Baltimore Development Corp., the city's economic development arm, said the museum has struggled since its $32 million facility at 35 Market Place opened in December 1998.
"It's had some rough years," Brodie said. "It had lot of debt when it started."
Parchman told the board that she has started several cost-saving measures that during the past two years have reduced the museum's operating budget from $5.8 million to $3.7 million. The facility is operating with a $360,000 deficit, she said.
She said the museum embarked on a plan a year ago to tailor its attractions to children between ages 2 and 5, rather than to the 5-to-17-year-old age group.
The museum attracted approximately 250,000 visitors last year, which Parchman said was a 7 percent increase over 2003.
"It seems they are finally turning the corner - not only as a good attraction but one that is being run as a more sound business," Mayor Martin O'Malley said. "We're impressed with what they've done to turn things around and to reduce their operating costs."
Parchman said she is also attempting to create new revenue by boosting fund-raising efforts and trying to find a tenant to lease the museum's 9,000-square- foot atrium at $20 a square foot for use as a retail operation.
She said 60 percent of her budget comes from museum revenue, and the rest is raised through contributions from corporations, including Legg Mason, Constellation Energy and Bank of America.
City Council President Sheila Dixon had a few suggestions for companies the museum should be hitting up for contributions, including a nearby McDonald's that she said is attractive to the museum's children and a Baltimore-based national developer.
"What about Cordish?" Dixon said, referring to Cordish Co., which developed Power Plant Live next to Port Discovery.
Parchman said the Baltimore company was not a current contributor but that it has given in the past.
"For as much as we did for them?" Dixon said.