GulfQuest’s museum board never saw the $1.6 million returned from the Jones Administration. When Mayor Sandy Stimpson took office in 2013 the museum board was hopeful his administration could help resolve the issue of the missing money.
“We were, you know, eager to present the situation to Mayor Stimpson after he won the election,” Former Museum Director Tony Zodrow said.
According to Zodrow, the Stimpson administration had no knowledge of the 2009 verbal agreement between GulfQuest and the Jones Administration.
“It was news to them, I believe,” Zodrow said.
When Sandy Stimpson took office the construction of the GulfQuest building was far from complete. Both the museum board and the City were focused on getting the museum opened.
“The Stimpson administration focused its time and attention on finishing the building, which should have been, admittedly, their number one priority. I mean we supported that wholeheartedly because if the building wasn’t finished, we couldn’t get in to install exhibits,” Zodrow.
However, as time wore on the loss of the $1.6 million began to affect the building process.
“It was impacting our ability to finish the exhibits. It was impacting our cash flow,” Zodrow said.
GulfQuest struggled with more construction delays. The non-profit took on an additional $500,000 in construction expenses to complete the city-owned building, but finally, GulfQuest opened in September of 2015.
It was a relief to finally have GulfQuest’s doors opened, but the museum was struggling financially.
“We were finding ourselves after the opening of the museum with diminishing cash reserves, and the need to really get in back and front of the Stimpson Administration and talk about reimbursement and that happened in February of this year,” Zodrow said.
The museum board met with the Mayor’s office but made no headway on the $1.6 million.
“They actually brought up the fact that GulfQuest had not paid, uh, the utilities to the City of Mobile in the interim. And to be honest, from the nonprofit’s perspective it was unreasonable to think that we would be paying $200,000 at the time of, uh, of utility expenses when the, in our view, the city owed us many more times that amount,” Zodrow said.
Lagniappe released a news story regarding the unpaid utilities. They quoted City Finance Director Paul Wesch. Tony Zodrow and the rest of the museum board wanted to reach out to tell their side of the story. Mayor Sandy Stimpson office’s “strongly urged” them not to talk to the media.
“There was an implication that if we did so, that any chances of them taking a funding package to the city council, would be dead on the water,” Zodrow said.
Mayor Stimpson advised the board to go to the Mobile City Council about the $1.6 million.
City Council members said they could not make any decisions on the money unless the Mayor himself proposed it.
Shortly after, the Mayor’s office sent out a press release saying the museum was closing its doors.
“The way that happened was not the way that I would have wanted to handle it as Executive Director of the museum. It was not compassionate. It was not professional. It was handled in a manner, to me, that was a very heavy-handed and indicated again the elements of a hostile takeover,” Zodrow said.