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Home / Articles / · Archive / News & Columns /  Will Smile for Cash Page 4
News & Columns

Will Smile for Cash Page 4

Feature: At $43 million and counting, The Leonardo Museum better kick some ass.

By Stephen Dark
Posted // August 29,2007 - DECISIONS, DECISIONS
With the $10.2 million building bond secured by matching funds in February 2006, it might have been expected that the city would immediately release the funds to begin construction. After all, “to get the project moving,” Wyffels says, The Leonardo floated reimbursable funds to hire the city’s choice of architects for the project, Philidelphia firm Ewing Cole, in September 2005.

Anderson offers a succinct explanation for why the money didn’t leave the city’s coffers for Library Square. “[The $10 million] wasn’t enough to build the structure, and we’d promised the voters a structure, not to build two thirds and board it up.”

Nevertheless, according to the board’s December 2005 minutes, Ewing Cole agreed to produce a detailed minimal scheme for the $10.2 million budget. In the following 18 months to date, no such scheme has appeared. Recently retired Main Library director and ex-Leonardo chairwoman Nancy Tessman is less than happy.

“There should be a plan out there that can be more moderate that will get us on the way,” she says.

If there were, Ewing Cole couldn’t develop one. From January 2006 on, a long, protracted dance took place as architects, the city, the board and Leonardo’s management dithered over the slew of schemes Ewing Cole provided, ranging in cost from $8.4 million to $25.2 million, and how to fund them.

To date, The Leonardo has spent $350,000 on Ewing Cole but does not have a final design all parties can sign off on.

Each month that decisions on the schematics were delayed, inflation added $160,000 to construction costs according to Tull in Leonardo board minutes from October 2006. But the board wasn’t only concerned about rising construction costs. Board member Ned Weinshenker commented in the July 2006 minutes on “how the funding momentum had diminished since Christmas 2005.” At that same meeting, the board wanted more confidence in the “fund-raising strategic plan.”

Perhaps some of the confidence was drained by Tull spending many months unsuccessfully waiting for a top-drawer local philanthropist to respond to a request for $20 million. This money was, in part, intended to help pay for one particular Ewing Cole scheme for a northern façade which, some argue, was too grandiose.

The north proposal was beautiful, board member Weinshenker says. But perhaps, he admits, “there was too much wishful thinking.”

Anderson maintains the design was “brilliant.” But, as board chairman Marshall Wright says, “having [Anderson] say he loved it made us think there was more support for it than it turned out to be both in the city and in the philanthropic community.”

The uncertainty over building design had at least one board member concerned. In May 2007 board minutes, Morris Rosenzweig asked “if Ewing Cole, The Leonardo and the board share responsibility for stagnation in building progress.”
Tull, Wyffels and Tessman agreed that “all parties are accountable.”

Ask Wright who is to blame for the slow progress, and he says blame is not a word that’s come up in board meetings. Rather, he says, the issues are about moving forward while getting the city engineers’ approval and review of design matters as they come up. “I think the iterations of going back and forth with architectural design has been the thing that made it difficult and slowed the project down. The iterative process wasn’t as fast as I would have liked it, but I don’t think it was overly slow.”

TELLING TALES
Along with its Ewing Cole fees, to date, The Leonardo has spent $1.8 million on consultants. Salt Lake City lobbyists Exoro Group has billed $80,000 while local design firm Axiom earned $35,000 for a branding campaign.

All this is still chump change compared to the $714,000 spent on Oakland, Calif.-based museum consultant and designer Gyroscope. That said, Gyroscope has helped The Leonardo integrate the three founding partners, at least programmatically, if not in terms of The Leonardo’s governance.

Gryoscope has come up with a way of layering programming over exhibits. The Leonardo’s exhibit development manager, Alexandra Hesse, attempts to demonstrate as much one August afternoon as she walks around the empty library building, “‘Story’ is one of the themes that helps [The Leonardo] be the connective tissue between the different parts, offering a unified, cohesive visitor experience while still not dictating to partner organizations what they need to do,” she says.

Hesse outlines how the ground floor will be a piazza, where people can gather around an enormous digital screen and hang out on loungy furniture or at a café. On the second floor will be workshops, an enormous “sphere of humanity” with data-stations that will allow visitors to explore subjects of interest—think a souped-up Google.

But Gyroscope can’t solve all their problems. Not when launching The Leonardo is akin to, as PR consultant James recalls ex-Global Artways director Elaine Harding saying, “building a plane at the same time as you’re trying to fly it.”

Trying to fly by the seat of your pants, some argue, is resulting in a convoluted management structure where the three founding partners are involved in daily decisions that the Leonardo staff makes on exhibits. For example, one question is how founding partners will react if and when Hesse chooses outside programming and exhibits over those of Andrade and Kelen.

With the Science Center planning to merge with The Leonardo and Kelen guarding his autonomy, tensions might rise.

“[The structure] sounds unwieldy,” Hesse says. “It probably isn’t the simplest organizational structure you could come up with. But we are learning to live with this and get better at the management of this situation that we have.” She adds, “Clearly, it can’t be that we’re trying to stitch things together that don’t naturally fit.”  >>

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REPLY TO THIS COMMENT
Posted // August 30,2007 at 06:03 Stephen Dark is to be complimented. Having worked obliquely with various parties at various times - the CDA, the Leonardo, and SLC Corp - I found the issue difficult to get my arms around and comprehensively understand it well, especially understanding how it developed and continued to grow, and as a result, what problems exist now and into the future. nnThis article has provided an excellent, fairly comprehensive explanation of most of this. Thanks for the great work!