McKinley Associates founder Ron Weiser acquires Detroit Science Center’s bank debt to help reopen museum

Posted on June 8, 2012

The Detroit Science Center has lined up a third party to acquire its debt from Citizens Bank of Flint, eight months after closing the museum.

Ron Weiser, founder of McKinley Associates Inc. in Ann Arbor and former chairman of the Michigan Republican Party and national finance chairman for the Republican National Committee, has entered into an agreement to acquire $6.2 million in debt and plans to make the science center’s land, building and contents available to a new nonprofit incorporated in April, the Michigan Science Center.

The science center’s debt was tied to its 2001 expansion and a $1 million line of credit.

The Michigan Science Center will be operated by new management and have a new board of directors led by Tom Stephens, a 43-year veteran of General Motors Co.who chaired the Detroit Science Center board after the resignation of Francois Castaing in January.

“We are excited about this plan as it eliminates any concerns over liquidation of the science center and better positions us for our ultimate goal of reopening in Midtown,” Stephens said in the statement.

The new Michigan Science Center’s mission will be to inspire children and their families to discover, explore and appreciate science, technology, engineering and math “in a dynamic, fun learning environment.

The new nonprofit plans to create a new board with some carryover members from the Detroit Science Center and some new members, said Shelly Otenbaker, a senior vice president at Eisbrenner Public Relationsand a trustee on the science center board.

The Michigan Science Centeris working to secure funds to reopen the museum.

As reported by Crain’s in February, GM, Ford Motor Co. and Penske Automotive Group Inc. have either reportedly stepped up with cash or have been receptive to assisting the science center. And the Ford Motor Co. Fundhas said openly that both it and the automaker continue to be major supporters of the science center.

Stephens also was leading meetings with Detroit area foundations, seeking support to reopen the center, sources have told Crain’s.

He is reportedly outlining a plan that returns the science center to its core business of operating the museum alone and not its for-profit subsidiary, Eekstein’s Workshop LLC, which did business as Detroit Design & Exhibits and Detroit Science Center Design & Exhibits.

The plan Stephens and others were taking to foundations in February called for about $4 million to reopen the museum alone and get it through this year. Future operations would be bolstered by about $2.5 million in annual giving that typically comes to the museum each year, sources said.

News of the science center’s resolving its debt problem follows similar news last week from the Detroit Symphony Orchestra which said it had settled its $54 million in debt with a syndicate of banks.

By: Sherri Welch, Crain’s Detroit Business