US Space & Rocket Center Receives New Funding
The US Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama is getting a generous gift of $250,000 from the city to help with the center’s immense debt.
Under Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle’s call, city leaders approved the one-time emergency payment to the space center to help it deal with its $19 million worth of debt. The center is one of the biggest tourist attractions in Alabama and generates millions of dollars in tax revenue for the city of Huntsville, but it has had some recent trouble keeping its expenses in line.
Officials at the Space & Rocket Center have laid off 21 employees this year as it looks for ways to cut costs and bring the center out of debt. Deborah Barnhart, the newly appointed CEO of the space center, said the layoffs are expected to reduce the Space Center’s payroll by about $1.7 million.
Battle said the money will come from cash left over when the fiscal year ended on September 30.
“We’re doing what we can,” Battle told Steve Doyle of The Huntsville Times. “Obviously, we can’t (give extra money) to every outside agency. But in the case of the Space & Rocket Center with the amount of tax dollars they return, this is a wise investment of the city’s money.”
“They’ve got some financial challenges, and we want to help them this one time,” city councilman Bill Kling, one of the leaders who approved the emergency payment, told Nick Banaszak of WHNT News. “Historically they bring in tens of thousands of dollars of sales tax and other revenue to the city…I think it’s good faith on their part, and I certainly want to give them my support.”
The bulk of the center’s debt is related to construction of the Davidson Center for Space Exploration and the Saturn V rocket. Barnhart said the center is required to make a $500,000 debt service payment every six months. She added that, with the city’s financial aid, and efforts to attract more international students during the slow months ahead, the center is “well positioned” to make its next scheduled payment in March.
The Space Center also received a partial insurance payment of close to $300,000 to help offset operating losses after the devastating string of tornadoes that hit the area on April 27, 2011.
“I thank the mayor and the council,” Barnhart said on Friday. “It’s just a sign of their confidence in our future and our ability to manage the problem and become a financially healthy organization again.”
The Space Center draws about 500,000 visitors each year, with 550,000 visitors last year. The center had recently got a boost when both FEMA and the Federal Aviation Administration flown senior execs to the space center for Space Camp team-building activities, Barnhart noted.
The center also has some upcoming projects that Barnhart says could help turn revenue shortfalls around. A new exhibit starts Friday featuring the history and of space pioneer and Huntsville icon Dr Werner von Braun, who would have turned 100 on March 23, 2012. The exhibit, called “100 Years of von Braun: His American Journey,” will include detailed rocket drawings made by von Braun as a teenager, hunting trophies, doctoral robes and other personal items from the center’s archives.
Another traveling exhibit, “Mammoths and Mastodons,” is scheduled to arrive at the center next summer.
Also, a new Hallmark Hall of Fame Movie is scheduled to begin filming at the Space Center on Wednesday, according to the Alabama Development Office. The film, “A Smile as Big as the Moon,” is based on the book “A Smile as Big as the Moon: A Teacher, His Class and Their Unforgettable Journey.” It will star John Corbett and Jessy Schram, whose characters team up to take a group of special education children to NASA’s Space Camp.
“A Smile as Big as the Moon” is set to premiere on ABC in 2012. The filming project is expected to last about two weeks and more than 100 cast and crew will be involved, potentially boosting the center’s revenues.
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