Just a few more (million) bucks needed to finish kids’ facility, say CEO, others

first_imgLAKE VIEW TERRACE Its 200-foot ramp stands ready to beckon giddy children through a wonderland of fun. Its leaders stand determined to keep the Children’s Museum of Los Angeles from becoming a derelict hulk at Hansen Dam. And the clock is ticking. The museum has less than a month to produce $1.25 million in cash and pledges to get a matching city loan to pay its builder. After struggling for years to raise money, officials say they are revamping their strategy to try to win community support. “It’s a call to action. We’re almost there,” said Cecilia Aguilera Glassman, the museum’s new chief executive officer. “We are extremely confident that we’ll reach our initial goal.” A sign outside the nearly completed museum at Foothill Boulevard and Osborne Street says “Opening Soon.” What it doesn’t say is that museum officials have scrambled this month to find $3.5 million to pay their contractor. That they’ve struggled for years to keep pace with skyrocketing construction costs. That the project, now priced at $58 million, is more than four years behind schedule. That a city audit into the poor fundraising is in the works. And that backers still must raise another $21 million from private donors to open the doors of the San Fernando Valley’s first museum. “We’re out hustling,” said Bruce Corwin, co-chairman of the museum board. “Results have been really positive. We’ve had some success. It looks good. The sad thing: We still haven’t had one major gift from the Valley.” For the short term, museum officials say they need to raise $450,000 more by June 11 to qualify for the city bailout loan. The $2.5 million in combined museum and city funds will then trigger a $1 million allocation from the county that will allow staff to move into the building by August. Completion of the pie-shaped building, museum supporters say, will enable fundraising to commence in earnest. “What this signifies is that this museum is happening,” said recently elected state Sen. Alex Padilla, the former city councilman who campaigned to move the museum into the northeast Valley. “We’ve chased a lot of windmills over the years, but this puts the museum on the map.” Standing inside the 200-foot-wide mouth of the museum, its newest CEO gazes from what will be a 36-foot-tall bank of windows onto a pine-studded park. When it’s finished, she can see children scampering up its ramp to power interactive exhibits based on the forces of Mother Nature. “It’s fabulous,” Glassman said. “We’re completely connected to nature, as far as the eye can see.” What it needs now, she said, is to be connected to its surrounding community. So Glassman, a liaison to the Valley for former Mayor Richard Riordan, who helped it rebuild after the 1994 Northridge Earthquake, has developed a plan to draw interest from the Valley itself. “I’m the first to acknowledge that the museum didn’t put its best foot forward with the Northeast Valley community,” she said. “There was no outreach.” She plans to set up meetings and speaking engagements with Valley homeowner groups, chambers of commerce and neighborhood councils. She also wants to bring more Valley leaders onto the museum board, host local fundraisers like home salons and golf tournaments, and establish donor-naming incentives. “The reality is, we must increase our base of prospective private donors,” Glassman said. “The small donations are every bit as important as the big ones.” Another key is greater public involvement. Community activist Steven Martinez said he once left a message with the museum because he wanted to volunteer. His phone call was never returned. “For us to have ownership, they need to reach out to us and let us be part of it, get some community leaders to be part of it … to let us get involved,” said Martinez, 40, of Van Nuys. About 70 percent of the $36 million raised so far for the museum has come from public coffers, including nearly $10 million from the city’s Proposition K park bond funds. But as the cost of concrete and steel has soared, Padilla and museum board members say every dollar raised has gotten sucked into paying for construction. So museum backers want to see the funding balance tilted toward the private sector. Supporters who had abandoned the downtown-based museum when it closed in 2000 and moved to the Valley need to be wooed back. Get one billionaire aboard, they say, and many more will follow. “We’re going to keep going back to any source of funds – to the heavy hitters, to the corporations, to the foundations – because the children of Los Angeles deserve a world-class children’s museum,” said Tim McCallion, who is on the museum’s board and executive committee. McCallion, president of the Western Region for Verizon Communications Inc., shepherded $1 million to the museum from the Verizon Foundation. He and his wife, Anne, also believed so strongly in the cause that they pledged $100,000 of their own money. And as prospective heavy hitters remain in the dugout, board members have once again resorted to pitching in funds themselves. This week, Corwin, McCallion and Doug Ring each donated another $100,000 to the museum. Another anonymous donor gave $500,000. Corwin, who helped found the downtown museum 30 years ago, said not only does the board need shaking up for serious dollars, Latinos need to be recruited for the effort. Padilla is the only Latino on the board. He also said L.A. schoolchildren could each be asked to ante up a quarter. “We’ve hit all the players in town, including the governor and the mayor, Spider-Man … and Shrek to get us over this thing and save the museum,” he said. “If we could get a quarter from each child, it would be wonderful for everyone to feel that they had a piece of the rock – and a piece of the museum.” dana.bartholomew (818) 713-3730160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!last_img

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