The National Fish and Wildlife Museum Wonders of Wildlife is asking the state of Missouri to erase a $2.5 million debt off the books.
The museum is scheduled to begin repaying the state no-interest loan in September, over the next ten years. But the museum's board is asking the state to forgive the debt.
The money was part of a financial package museum supporters received in 1998, which included $8 million in tax credits and a state grant of more than $7 million.
The state loan was to assist with construction. Tuesday, museum executive director Tony Schoonen made the request to forgive the loan before the Missouri Development Finance Board in Jefferson City.
The museum's past financial pressures are causing some to wonder if the attraction is failing. A WOW board member says no. But the Springfield Chamber of Commerce says the wildlife museum has not met expectations during it's five year history.
Museum board vice chairman Lee Gannaway says the museum is not struggling financially. Gannaway says the museum wants to the the loan repayment funds to make critical maintenance repairs and renovate exhibits.
Chuck Wooten, a former Springfield state representative who was among the delegation that helped sell the museum's loan request in the late '90's, believes the museum should honor it's debt.
"They're wrong, they need to pay the loan back, just like the bill called for," Wooten told KOLR10 Wednesday. "If it was a mistake, it was a mistake. But we just have to pay for it. The state shouldn't have to eat it."
Dave Hunziger of Cross Timbers, Mo., was visiting the museum with his daughter Wednesday. He says he visits every time his family comes to Springfield, to shop and to see the wildlife up close.
But apparently not enough people are doing that. When the museum opened in 2002, organizers estimate the attraction would bring in millions of dollars to Springfield's economy and close to one million visitors every years. But five years later, only about one fourth of that number of visitors are coming through the doors annually.
Late Wednesday, the museum issued a news release regarding the loan forgiveness request. It also announced it has terminated an agreement with Bella Films, a third party vendor which had planned to build an IMAX theater on the museum property.
The statement read in part, "Due to financial constraints and other conditions, it appeared that Bella Films was not in a position to be able to complete its obligation under the lease agreement as operator of the theatre. We are currently evaluating and exploring our options concerning IMAX, other large format theatres, as well as other alternate attractions."
The Missouri Development Finance Board delayed a vote on the request until next month at the request of chairman and Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder.