The Museum of Science and Industry in Tampa is closing its IMAX theater and some other exhibits as it moves into a smaller space on its current grounds near the University of South Florida, with an eye on a possible move downtown.
The changes will start in August and will come with a lower ticket price, though the actual cost has not been released.
The new "Science Learning Lab" will be located in the 40,000 square-foot building currently occupied by the Museum's Welcome Center and the Kids In Charge exhibit.
Museum officials say the changes will make MOSI more financially sustainable by lowering maintenance, utilities and operations costs.
"It's largely an economic decision, we wanted to get MOSI into a sustainable business model - by that I mean one that breaks even," incoming MOSI Board Chair Robert Thomas said. "If we stay in this space, we have an inherent economic problem because our overhead continues to increase, our attendance and our earned revenue continue to go down. It's not economically tenable for us to stay in this space because the overhead is just a crushing burden for us to try to overcome."
Then, the museum will close August 13 - around when children return to school - and reopen later this fall.
After the reconfiguration, the center will still have more than 100 hands-on exhibits, including the Idea Zone, planetarium, ropes course and lunar simulation.
"Staff is in the process of prioritizing the most popular and most effective exhibits that exist in MOSI now, and (deciding) which ones will move to the Science Learning Lab," Thomas said. "It's a smaller footprint, so some of the stuff will be phased out. There's also new things that will be brought in as well, so it's kind of prioritizing what the most popular, most effective teaching exhibits are and moving those."
However, one thing that won't operate any more is the IMAX Dome, which once showed documentaries shot especially for the larger screen format, along with a mix of big budget films.
"The IMAX Dome is technically obsolete," Thomas said. "The production of film-based IMAX films is obsolete. The move to convert from the film format to a digital format, which is what all new IMAX products are, is cost-prohibitive, very expensive."
Along with the IMAX Dome, MOSI will close the butterfly garden, gift shop, café, and some of its less popular and older exhibits.
"I think we're adjusting our curriculum to target a little bit older client base," Thomas said. "We're going to be adjusting toward more adolescents, eight to 14 year-olds, so the whole re-framing will have a new flavor."
In addition to lower ticket prices, current MOSI members will have time added to their membership for the period the museum is closed for its reconfiguration.
Looking forward, MOSI officials would like to have the center moved downtown around 2022. Thomas would like it to be be part of a "museum row" in downtown Tampa, near attractions like the Florida Aquarium and the Tampa Bay History Center. But that doesn't necessarily mean leaving the current Fowler Avenue location entirely.
"I don't know that it's a complete zero-sum game," Thomas said (hear more of his comments on the downtown location below). "There could be a dual campus, there could be some residual presence here for MOSI, particularly in coordination with the research aspect of the University of South Florida."
As for the building that MOSI is vacating in the summer move, Thomas says the owner - Hillsborough County - will determine what happens to that.
"Hillsborough County's in the process of starting a re-purposing study for the space, so the County will be deciding how to re-purpose this space or whether the space will be eliminated and something new brought in," Thomas said.
One part of the MOSI family definitely knows its future: the MOSI Partnership School, a Hillsborough County Public School that operates in the original museum building, will move out when its contract ends after the 2018 school year.