Sunday, August 10, 2008

Shout-out: Chris Nuttall Smith on the Royal Ontario Museum's Reno Woes

Given my continued griping about the financial mismanagement at the Royal Ontario Museum (and related admission fee jumps) I want to do a shout-out to Toronto writer Chris Nuttall-Smith, whose much-needed feature on the ROM's renovation-cost woes is the highlight of the recently released September 2008 issue of Toronto Life magazine.

In it, Nuttall-Smith reveals the following ROM errors of judgment:
  • In 2001, the consulting firm KPMG predicted that with an appropriate reno, the ROM could raise attendance from 650,000 visitors annually to between 1 to 1.6 million visitors. The ROM (unwisely) then projected their post-reno attendance to hit 1.65 million right off the bat (that's 4,500 visitors per day).
  • The project's cost spiralled over an 18-month delay from $200 million to $320 million. At each step of the way, the ROM trustees okayed going into debt and blue-skying things like monies to be received from a (still unapproved) sale of a nearby planetarium for a 46-storey condo development.
  • In the 2007-2008 fiscal year, the ROM greeted 986,171 visitors—fewer visitors than in pre-reno 2000.
Of course, Nuttall-Smith's assessment attempts for balance too, with a profile of past successes of CEO Bill Thorsell, as well as a general tone of detachment and recognition of international accolades from Conde Nast travel mags. 

Still, it's not hard to see that Thorsell (who, it's implied, has a very hard time taking constructive criticism or naysaying) and the ROM trustees have really dug their own boom-mentality grave on this one.

Interestingly, in anticipation of this expose (however gentle) Thorsell has issued his own press release linked on the ROM frontpage, a very rah-rah assessment noting that attendance is now averaging 3,000 a day (still well below the basic budgeted requirements detailed above), with $232 mil raised (still $90 mil short of what's needed) and a 94% guest satisfaction rate (that's of people who managed to get into the museum, not those who are kept out by admission barriers, or who decided, as Nuttall-Smith documents, hin the past year that they will never return). 

Definitely worth a read or two, or three.

Image of fireworks at the ROM's June 2007 opening from the Royal Ontario Museum website.

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