Tampa's Museum of Science and Industry made a difficult but necessary decision Thursday in announcing it would significantly downsize its campus in advance of relocating to downtown Tampa. The move will save MOSI money while preserving its presence and educational mission, and it signals that museum leaders are willing to confront the reality of the marketplace. This is a good move that should bolster public confidence in MOSI and better position it to succeed at its new location.
MOSI will consolidate its exhibits at its longtime home in north Tampa, across from the University of South Florida. It will close the IMAX theater and shut down some low-performing attractions, reducing the facility to less than one-sixth of its current size, from 300,000 square feet to about 40,000 square feet. The smaller footprint will help MOSI reduce overhead costs, with the goal of sustaining the operation until 2022, when it expects to move into a new home as part of Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik's housing, office and retail development on the south end of downtown Tampa. Hillsborough County, which owns the museum, will decide how to use the surplus property.
While a dramatic change in course, MOSI is making the right move even if it's by necessity. Its struggling finances, flagging attendance and high fixed costs called for a strategy that would keep the museum afloat and visible for the near term. MOSI also needs to stay strong enough institutionally to attract the civic support needed to make a healthy addition to the Vinik project. Paring back the operation makes financial sense, and it enables MOSI to maintain its valuable name brand in the community. No other local venue offers a similar experience.
The museum will close in mid August and reopen in the fall in the reconfigured space. As a sweetener, MOSI will lower ticket prices (currently $26.95 for adults and $20.95 for kids), though officials have yet to decide the amount. MOSI also will give members additional passes for guests. It should work to keep its strong relationships with other local attractions and maintain its marketing budget.
Hillsborough County should be open to continuing financial support for MOSI. The publicly owned museum serves a unique educational role, and with a lively remake it could remain a signature attraction and a key element of Tampa Bay's larger effort to build the region into an entrepreneurial center for science. This transition is in good hands; the new board chairman, Robert Thomas, has been a strong advocate for MOSI for years. He should foster public confidence in MOSI's ability to see the strategy through. While this new look for MOSI may be a retreat to regroup, it's a tactical one that has the best chance of preserving this valuable institution over the long term.