The former executive director of the GulfQuest National Maritime Museum of The Gulf of Mexico is claiming the city owes the museum $1.6 million, per a verbal agreement made with the Jones’ administration in 2009.
In an interview with News 5 last week Tony Zodrow said had that agreement been honored GulfQuest would still be open.
Mayor Sandy Stimpson made the decision to close GulfQuest due to its financial struggles and poor attendance. 80,000 visitors came through the doors of the museum during the 13 months it was open, far less than the 300,000 visitors that were projected.
GulfQuest is a maritime museum that was years in the making. It sits on the Mobile River as a tribute to Mobile’s maritime history. Zodrow said the idea of GulfQuest was well received by the community.
“It was an exciting opportunity to go out and raise money for this project because quite honestly you had a lot of receptivity in the community. A lot of maritime companies that were willing to step up and give generously to the campaign,” Zodrow said.
The museum faced years of construction delays. Zodrow said, “The original timeline for building construction was 18 to 24 months. It actually took five and a half years.”
“Yes, yes! I was at there for the grand opening. It was very hopeful. I don’t know if you’ve been in there or not it, but it’s state of the art. It’s a first class museum,” Councilman Fred Richardson said.
“This has been a long time in the making and yes people were excited about having a venue to share the Gulf Coast story,” Council President Gina Gregory said.
Despite the enthusiasm, the museum closed its doors only 13-months after opening.
“Unfortunately the visitors did not come that they had expected therefore the revenues were not what they expected. You can’t keep the doors open if the revenues are not coming in and that’s why the Mayor felt like he had to shut it down,” Council President Gina Gregory said.
On November 4th, the Mayor’s office sent out a press release.
Effective Monday, November 7, 2016, until further notice, GulfQuest will be open on a limited basis, specifically for private and special events (including those already scheduled). The Museum will be maintained by a minimally required number of staff who will become City employees reporting into the Mayor’s office. The City will do its part to maintain the building and grounds. The Board of Trustees will be responsible for raising funds for maintenance of the exhibits and to cover their outstanding payables and significant debt obligations.”
According to Zodrow, the Mayor’s office never gave him the opportunity to let his employees know they would be losing their jobs. He was in a Board Meeting discussing the issue with the museum’s board when Stimpson’s staff sent the press release out.
“Unbeknownst to us, the city had issued a news release to the media announcing these changes. The staff heard about the layoff through the media. When I came out of that initial meeting, there was bedlam. The staff was…many of them were very emotional. They were crying. They couldn’t understand what was happening. They were getting calls from family members and friends saying, “Do you know that you’re without a job?”, Zodrow said.
The Mayor’s release goes on to say, “Due to the projected attendance numbers not being reached in year one, GulfQuest has found itself in an unsustainable financial situation.” Tony Zodrow says the reason GulfQuest found itself in this position was because the city owed the museum $1.6 million.
Zodrow shared with News 5 documents showing that Sam Jones’ administration made an agreement with the museum regarding $1.6 million. We caught up with Sam Jones at a water board meeting where he told us he had no knowledge of this.
Tomorrow night on News 5 we delve deeper in the issue of this missing $1.6 million.