The task of raising $1.2 million in 37 days might seem daunting, but those invested in bringing the YouZeum to life think it’s a slight obstacle.
The interactive health science center planned for the old Federal Building downtown must meet a June 30 deadline or risk losing a $500,000 grant from the Mabee Foundation.
“We’re going to be very aggressive in these next six weeks,” said Glenn McElroy, vice chairman of the YouZeum Board of Directors. “We also have a number of contacts left from the capital campaign.”
McElroy said new goals are to find potential donors, enhance the visibility of the project and build a groundswell of support.
The YouZeum will cost an estimated $5.2 million to develop, and supporters already have raised $4 million. In July 2004, the Mabee Foundation of Tulsa, Okla., issued a challenge grant for the YouZeum with one string attached: the group had to raise the balance of the project cost by June 30.
“The theory is that we’d like to see half the funds raised for the project at the time of the request,” said John Conway, a director of the foundation’s Tulsa office. “Those involved with making the request should know what the responses of the community are.”
The grant is the second largest contribution to the project, but YouZeum’s board members are confident they can meet the deadline.
The center has received a number of large donations in the past three years, including a $1 million donation from physician Ira Hubbell of Columbia. Various health groups, including Boone Hospital Center, Columbia Orthopedic Group and the Missouri Heart Center, have also pitched in.
The most important component of the project, the Federal Building at 608 E. Cherry St., was given to the group by the federal government in September 2003. That cut the project cost by $1.4 million.
Cynical minds might think YouZeum supporters are being overly optimistic, but lead fund-raiser Heather Grote says unique circumstances make the deadline feasible.
“It’s a realistic goal, but it’s not going to be easy,” Grote said. “I’m surprised by the number of people they haven’t spoken to.”
While the group has relied on the medical community, she thinks the margin will close quickly if they target business owners who could benefit from the center’s presence.
“They’ve spent a lot of time courting large business owners and banks,” Grote said. “Now they’re looking at smaller businesses, especially in the downtown area.”
John Ott, chairman of the YouZeum’s capital campaign, says the aim is to raise $400,000, or one-third of the goal, from individuals. They hope the rest will come from local businesses and philanthropists.
Ott said fund-raisers are trying to sell potential donors on the health and economic benefits — including possible tourism revenue– of the project.
City officials foresee those benefits.
In June 2004, the Columbia Convention and Visitors Bureau awarded the YouZeum $250,000, which will be paid from the city’s tax on hotel and motel rooms.
Ott and others involved with the project have said the center could be the jewel in the crown of a downtown museum district that will also include Blind Boone Center, the MU Museum of Art and Archaeology and, perhaps, the State Historical Society.
“All of a sudden you have a critical mass and a package of destinations,” Ott said.
Grote thinks that in due time, events such as in-home fund-raisers and pledge cards will generate enough money to make the center a reality.
“There are still a lot of people that don’t know a lot about it,” Grote said. “We’re reaching out to the people who will attend it when it opens.”
The project’s board of directors could be considered a veritable colossus of clout possessing ready access to potential high-dollar donors and to the media to broadcast its goals for the next five weeks.
The desire is palpable in the voices of people involved with the 14-year dream.
“They are talking to almost anyone they can think of, and their positions afford them access to certain people,” Grote said.
As the YouZeum moves from virtual images on flat-panel screens toward reality in the fall of 2006, McElroy, of the YouZeum board, noted this past Saturday that the project will not die if the Mabee deadline comes and goes.
“We’re confident that we’re going to meet the Mabee deadline,” McElroy said. “If for some reason, whatever that is, that we don’t make it, we’ll figure out another way to raise the money and move ahead.”
A portion of this report first aired Wednesday during “ABC 17 News at 10.”