Children’s museum can’t secure lease

The Kaua‘i Children’s Discovery Museum is considering a return to its roots as a traveling exhibit as it prepares to leave its Kapa‘a location of nine years.

The move from beneath the iconic clocktower at the Kaua‘i Village Shopping Center was the subject of a meeting at the museum last night attended by a dozen patrons, volunteers and board members.

Last week, Children’s Discovery announced it would close its doors on May 31 after failing to secure a long-term lease.

According to Jonathan Chun, president of the museum’s board of directors, the museum has been operating on a temporary basis since its five-year lease with the shopping center’s former owner, PASSCO, expired in 2005. Since then, the board has tried to no avail to extend its agreement, both with the past and current owners.

In January, Faris Lee Investments partnered with Diversified Equity Investment Corp., the largest shopping center owners in Hawai‘i, to buy Kaua‘i Village for $40 million.

Faris Lee has been clear that its focus is on retail- and resort-oriented tenants to better capitalize on the visitor market.

Kim Scoggins, a vice president with O‘ahu-based Colliers Monroe Friedlander, which is charged with filling out the tenant list, told The Garden Island for a report last week that 10 to 15 new tenants would be brought in to the shopping center and none would be leaving. A few days later, the museum announced its departure.

Chun said Scoggins told him that the museum does not fit in with the owner’s vision for the shopping center and that if there were space left over after reaching out to new tenants, an offer would be extended.

However, there was no guarantee that would happen, and if it did, rent would likely skyrocket.

At the meeting, Chun said he doesn’t fault the new owners for wanting to profit from the purchase and pay off their loans.

Scoggins did not return calls by press time.

According to Chun, the lack of stability at the current site would hinder any sort of long-term planning.

It can take up to a year to install a new exhibit from the time it is requested. Without the security to order new displays and know there will be a place to put them, Chun said the museum was stuck at a standstill.

For this reason, the board decided it would be better to focus on bringing programs to the public than continuing to pay rent to stay at Kaua‘i Village.

“We looked at all the numbers and we can’t do it without an angel dropping in with a bunch of money,” said board member Ron Horoshko, adding that it was hard to close down.

The museum had been considering a move since before Chun joined the board seven years ago. While the benefits of owning property are great, the museum was unable to find the right site to go it alone.

Recently, however, Chun said the museum has identified a partner organization as well as two potential venues that could be shared.

But it could be a few years before a permanent location is up and running, he added, which is another reason to shift to more mobile programs.

“This is a good time to sit down and really redirect ourselves,” Chun said.

The museum’s funding will also be affected by the move. Some of the grants used to subsidize exhibits are site specific, meaning the money was requested for the Kapa‘a location and cannot be transferred to another use after the move.

Another important source of funding, annual membership fees, is based on unlimited access to the museum year-round.

Without a location to visit, it is unclear whether support will continue or falter. Admission will no longer produce revenue, without a location, as well.

According to Mari Demoya, the museum’s executive director, there are more than 250 members, with the largest concentration of families residing in Kapa‘a.

“The current location offers a special destination that families can come to discover through play,” said Demoya, who will resign May 31.

The board does not have plans to fill the position as of yet.

Programs at the site include a planetarium show, an exhibit on local geography, family storytimes, arts and crafts, a cultural village, a “Pure Play” area and an educational early childhood center for parents and kids. All in all, it’s a place for families to explore and learn.

As for the museum’s belongings, some will be sold, some donated and others tossed. A garage sale of sorts will likely take place and the important exhibits, such as the whale skeleton and planetarium, will be put in storage.

Keeping a positive tone throughout the discussion, Chun noted that the museum will save on rent and utilities as it shifts to outreach programs.

He and other board members in attendance pointed to the children’s museum in O‘ahu that successfully transitioned to traveling exhibits for a period before relocating to a state-owned site.

Already, a volunteer has stepped forward to receive calls and mail as the museum looks for an office space from which to operate.

The museum’s last day will be Thursday, as it needs a few weeks to clean up and vacate by mid-June.

• Blake Jones, business writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 251) or bjones@kauaipubco.com.

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