SALT LAKE CITY — The Leonardo science and art museum has roughly three months to dig its way out of a $3.6 million hole, or it could be facing staff layoffs or even closure.
The nonprofit museum near the Salt Lake Main Library has for years struggled to stay out of the red, but staff and board members say they have a plan to get the Leonardo on a self-sustaining path — it will just take some help from the community.
“We’re at a crossroads,” said Katie Smith, the Leonardo’s chief impact officer. “We’re facing significant short-term challenges, but we have a plan we’ve been working on.”
Museum managers have sought the help of multiple banks to help consolidate the $3.6 million debt — including more than $500,000 owed to Salt Lake City — into a more manageable long-term loan, Smith said.
But the catch is the Leonardo will need several co-signers on the loans because it doesn’t have any collateral. Salt Lake City owns its building, which the museum leases for $1 per month.
“We’ve had conversations with multiple banks and they are ready to loan to us,” Smith said. “But in absence of collateral, they need stakeholders to step up as loan guarantors.”
Smith said the museum’s management has been having “active conversations with some organizations and individuals” — though she declined to name them, citing ongoing talks — who have expressed interest in helping the Leonardo.
“We’re very encouraged,” Smith said, adding that the willingness to help “is really a testament to the passion this community has for this museum.”
Smith said the Leonardo is hoping to get the loans secured over the next couple of weeks to get co-signers in place by the end of the summer, noting it will take the bank 30 to 60 days to fund.
“Right now we’re focused on surviving through this period of time,” Smith said. “I certainly hope it doesn’t have to close.”
Board member Lisa Davis encouraged any community member with the means and who cares for the Leonardo to volunteer.
“I’d definitely call on current and past stakeholders and supporters,” she said, noting that the museum had recently received phone calls and emails from supporters hoping to donate.
To make ends meet, staff members and board members have even recently loaned some of their personal funds to the Leonardo, Smith said.
In 2011, Salt Lake City gave the museum $600,000 in a 10-year loan to cover operating costs during a six-month opening delay. The museum had remained current on the loan up until it began missing payments in March, with $248,000 remaining, said Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski’s spokesman Matthew Rojas.
The museum also owes the city roughly $275,000 in utility payments, Rojas said.
“It’s the responsibility of the Leonardo’s board to find a viable and sustainable path forward,” Rojas said, adding that while city officials “aren’t looking to make the money they owe the city a stumbling block for them to be successful,” they hope the museum can find a more stable future soon.
“We would love to see a viable Leonardo and hope they can find that path forward,” Rojas said.
The Leonardo’s board of directors met Thursday to discuss the plan and the “urgency around getting some very immediate financial commitments” met within the next several weeks, Davis said.
The board talked in detail about “contingency plans,” Davis said, in case museum officials need to adjust their strategy over the next several weeks.
That may include some staff layoffs, though she said Thursday there weren’t any plans to let go of any employees “at this moment.”
The top priority, Smith said, is to have “a minimum impact” on the public’s access to the museum and, most of all, keep it open for the long term.
Davis said it will “become clear over the next few weeks” if staff layoffs may be necessary.
“The responsible thing to do is look at the entire menu of possibilities and be honest, be nimble, so we adjust to the situation as it develops over the next days or weeks,” Davis said.