Academy Museum Goes $100 Million Over Budget

The Academy Museum of Motion Pictures — which is set to open in December after a three-year delay — is nearly $100 million over budget, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences acknowledged on Wednesday.

The museum is now projected to cost $482 million. That’s a 24% increase over $388 million, the budget figure the Academy has cited since 2015.

The Academy is expected to launch a $100 million bond offering within the next few days to cover the cost overruns. The Academy, which announced just two weeks ago that it had raised 95% of its fundraising target, will now have to undertake a second, “post-opening” fundraising campaign — with a goal in excess of $100 million — to pay off the new debt and help fund operations.

Museum director Bill Kramer — who was hired in late September, and started full-time on Jan. 1 — told Variety in an interview that costs had ballooned over “many years.”

Famed architect Renzo Piano designed the project, including the Geffen Theater, a 1,000-seat venue set inside a raised concrete orb, which is topped with a glass covering. The construction proved more difficult than first anticipated, Kramer said.

“The sphere was a very complicated piece of architecture to build,” he said, adding that, “We’re thrilled with it. It’s beautiful. It’s exactly what we wanted.”

Most of the museum — the lobby, the gift shop, the restaurant, and the galleries — is housed in the historic May Co. department store building at Wilshire Boulevard and Fairfax Avenue, which has been renamed the Saban Building.

“When you have an adaptive reuse project that’s bringing a 1939 building back to life, sometimes those costs go up a little bit,” Kramer said.

The original design called for two “intimate” 141-seat theaters on the second and fourth floors of the building. The Academy later changed the plan, deciding it would be better to have a single 288-seat theater in the basement. That also added to the cost.

The construction challenges were clear enough to see several years ago. In 2017, Variety reported that internal cost estimates were at least $420 million, though the museum director at the time, Kerry Brougher, was still using the $388 million figure in public.

Last week, journalists were given a tour of the building, which is nearly finished. However, the gallery spaces are empty, and the exhibits are still very much a work in progress.

“We are working with a large group of film artists who are helping us conceptualize and build our spaces,” Kramer said. “We’ve created a great game plan, with a solid exhibition plan that we’re really proud of.”

Brougher stepped down in August, after years of grumbling among the staff about his leadership style and the difficulty of making decisions.

Kramer said the Dec. 14 opening date is designed to capitalize on Oscar buzz and an influx of tourists around the holidays. He said there will be several weeks of special events leading up to the opening.

He said the Academy is currently in the “silent phase” of the new fundraising campaign, which will kick off in earnest once the museum is open to the public.

The $100 million in new bonds will be financed through the California Infrastructure and Economic Development Bank, carrying a low interest rate, and will mature in 10 years.

“I think it’s very safe to say we have a grip on the budget,” Kramer said. “We have a strong sense of schedule and timeline.”

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