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Show Us the Money

The Children’s Museum is running out of time to pay for its new downtown home.

FOR THE SAN DIEGO CHILDREN’S MUSEUM, which next January hopes to at long last move into a splashy new downtown facility, it’s time to put up. If the museum, already four months behind schedule, doesn’t come up with the full $20 million cost of the project by May 12, a stipulation in the purchase contract allows the Centre City Development Corporation (CCDC) to buy back the lucrative parcel at Island and Second avenues for a token $10.

In that case, says museum marketing director Bruce Hartman, "We would forfeit our investment in that property, which is several million dollars, and it would be a tremendous loss for San Diego’s families. We could start over and find another place downtown. But most likely, because of the cost of building downtown, we’d have to move elsewhere, possibly into the suburbs."

As the deadline approaches, Hartman and others associated with the Rob Wellington Quigley–designed museum are becoming increasingly worried. As of mid- March, they had raised only a little more than $14 million. Hartman concedes, "It’s a monumental challenge, having to bring in so much more money all at one time.

"We are targeting large donations from individuals, and also reaching out to the community at a grassroots level," he says. "This museum is everybody’s museum, and we want to make sure everybody has an opportunity to play a part in it."

The Children’s Museum was originally housed in La Jolla Village Square. In 1993, a deal arranged by CCDC allowed the museum to move into a leased downtown warehouse with an option to buy the property. Museum officials executed that option three years ago, paying CCDC $4.8 million for the land and then jumpstarting their fund-raising efforts a year later by selling the north half of the city block for $11.9 million to the developer of Pinnacle Museum Tower, a 35-story condominium project.

The museum closed in the summer of 2002 and hired Quigley to design a cutting-edge facility, with eight interactive galleries, an expanded studio, a theater, a school, a restaurant, a garden and a museum store. The idea was to move into the new digs by January 2005. But raising additional funds to complete the project proved a lot harder than museum officials had anticipated, and so far only the underground parking garage and basement level of the new facility have been built.

The new target opening date is January of next year, but even that looks dicey if museum officials don’t come up with a lot of extra dough.

"It’s definitely something we’re concerned about," Hartman says of the looming May 12 deadline. "If we don’t come up with the money, the CCDC could take it over and seize the land. Of course, we’re hoping they don’t exercise that option; what we’re hoping they do is extend the deadline, by at least a year."

CCDC officials won’t say what they’re going to do if the museum fails to come up with the money. "We have asked the museum for information to evaluate whether there is a reasonable chance that an extension would be successful," says CCDC senior vice president Pam Hamilton. "That information is forthcoming."

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The Insider

Celebrities | Politics | Media

A new star in the making: 7-year-old Ariel Gade of San Marcos, who plays Jennifer Connelly’s daughter in the new Disney psycho thriller Dark Water, which opens in August. Gade also has been tapped for the pilot for a new TV series, Invasion. She broke into Hollywood last year with a supporting role in director Barry Levinson’s Envy, starring Ben Stiller and Jack Black.

There’s already lots of talk in local political circles about the upcoming battle for the 51st District Congressional seat between two Democrats, incumbent Bob Filner and state Assemblyman Juan Vargas. The primary isn’t until next year, but both sides are gearing up for what promises to be a bruising fight.

Filner has collected thousands of dollars from a fundraiser hosted by attorney Fern Steiner and restaurant proprietor Ingrid Croce. Noting he’s already squared off against Vargas twice, Filner told supporters his battle cry will be "Three strikes, Juan, and you’re out."

Vargas, meanwhile, has been boosting his public profile any way he can, most recently by dipping his toes into the controversy surrounding the San Diego mayor’s race. He’s promised to introduce legislation to nullify the requirement that bubbles be filled in next to the names of write-in candidates.

San Diego Mayor Dick Murphy is quietly pressuring city manager Lamont Ewell, slated to leave in July, to stay on until January 2006, City Hall sources say. At least one prominent politico, however, believes this is a mistake. "People like Lamont," he says, "but he’s too compromised by everything that’s going on at City Hall."

Essie Mae Williams, the recently identified African- American daughter of the late Senator Strom Thurmond, was in Carlsbad not long ago for a speaking engagement at the Pilgrim United Church of Christ. She signed copies of her autobiography, Dear Senator: A Memoir by the Daughter of Strom Thurmond.

Crews from music television network Fuse were in San Diego recently for an open casting call for the new show Ultimate Fuse Gig: The VJ Search, which bowed in March. It’s a quest to find the show a new video jock" to interview celebs. Other cities that made the cut include Dallas, Memphis and Seattle.

The on-line edition of The New Kerala, serving the state of Kerala, India, picked up the story about how trains are keeping downtown San Diego denizens awake at night. The story, headlined "Trains vex downtown San Diego residents," ran alongside local stories on "Indo-Pak football" and "Accused Dr. Sangeeta Prasad granted bail in Bilkis trial.

Imelda Staunton, nominated for a best-actress Oscar for her role in Vera Drake, may not have copped the little gold statue she was hoping for. But during a break from filming (her next two projects are the Emma Thompson–penned Nanny McPhee and the TV movie Fingersmith), she had a close encounter with a penguin. During a quick San Diego getaway to visit Sea- World, Staunton—accompanied by her husband and daughter—got a behindthe- scenes tour of the Penguin Encounter.

Utah Senator Orrin Hatch, one of the more prominent Republicans in Washington, quietly slipped into Old Town recently to speak at the annual Mormon Battalion celebration, held each year to commemorate the 1847 arrival here of the original battalion.

Poker champs Chris Ferguson, Howard Lederer and Robert Williamson III stopped in at Harrah’s Rincon casino recently to sign autographs and chat with fans. The "meet-and-greet" was part of the World Series of Poker Circuit Tournaments at the casino. Also on hand: poker legend Doyle "Texas Dolly" Brunson, who has nine World Series of Poker bracelets. Brunson signed copies of his latest book, SuperSystem 2, and appeared in the Oasis Lounge for an onstage interview about his life and poker experiences.

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