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Tuesday, May 22, 2018
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MOSI gets $2 million gift for Imax theater

— Florida Hospital gave Tampa's Museum of Science and Industry a $2 million shot in the arm Friday.

The donation will cover the cost of converting the science museum's Imax dome theater from film to 3D digital projection. Modernizing the theater will give MOSI the potential to increase its revenue from movies, helping improve its long-term sustainability, said Mike Schultz, president of Florida Hospital's western region.

Any money left after the overhaul is the museum's to spend as needed. That could include supporting museum programs or paying down its debt, said MOSI spokeswoman Shannon Herbon.

MOSI plans to add a new program to broadcast live surgeries by Florida Hospital as a way to introduce young people to medicine. Those program would take place is a smaller theater, not the Imax dome. They'll start with the new school year, said Florida Hospital spokeswoman Jennifer Mcvan.

Florida Hospital, MOSI's neighbor across the University of South Florida campus, made its donation at a time when MOSI is facing questions about its financial stability. A recently released audit commissioned by Hillsborough County described MOSI's “diminishing ability” to keep up with its financial obligations.

The auditors praised MOSI president and CEO Wit Ostrenko for spinning off the institution from county control in 1987 and growing it into an accredited nonprofit organization. The museum is approaching 15 million in attendance since it opened in 1982.

But current board members, in confidential interviews with the auditors, faulted Ostrenko for lack of focus on fund-raising from the private sector, finding that income from these contributions is low compared with similar institutions.

Friday, Ostrenko described Florida Hospital's donation as a transformational gift.

“We are so excited to partner with Florida Hospital,” he said.

The Imax dome theater will be renamed in honor of the hospital chain.

The 20-year-old theater is one of 90 in the world being converted to digital projections. The process is similar to what flat-screen Imax and conventional theaters have been going through in recent years.

The Tampa Theater made its own $150,000 transition to digital last year.

The cost of switching an Imax dome theater could run 10 times that. The Science Museum of Iowa expects to spend up to $2 million to convert its Blank Imax dome to digital once costs like new seats and other updates to the 8-year-old center are factored in, said Curt Simmons, president and CEO.

The conversion will create possibilities for broadcasting live events, hosting corporate events or even projecting video games onto the domed screen.

“This is opening our world,” Simmons said. “We as an industry are trying to capitalize on the possibilities out there. It seems endless.”

The changes are happening in the wake of Imax announcement last year that the company plans to phase out its 70-mm film movie format, following the same path conventional movie producers have been taking for years.

It's not clear when the MOSI Imax transition will begin.

Molly DeMeulenaere, MOSI's vice president for growth, said the museum needs to contract with one of the few companies that can do the work. It's competing with the 90 other Imax domes for the same small group of specialists, she said.

“So we're all in line waiting for the technology to become available,” she said.

The majority of Florida Hospital's donation will go into the theater conversion, she said.

The announcement brought out a who's who of local elected officials, community boosters and museum board members.

“I know this is the beginning of a great future for this area,” said County Commissioner Mark Sharpe, who sits on the MOSI board of directors.

Tampa City Councilwoman Lisa Montelione, whose district includes MOSI, said the donation was good news at a time with the museum has hit a rough patch.

“MOSI's been getting a lot of negative press lately, and there's nothing like a $2 million show in the art to revitalize the institution,” Montelione said.

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