Working with local nonprofit organizations, Baltimore officials are leading talks to find new caretakers for the Fells Point Maritime Museum and the Baltimore Civil War Museum, which are slated to close in September.
Last week, the Maryland Historical Society - which is operating in the black after struggling financially in recent years - announced it would close the two satellite museums to focus its resources on its main campus on West Monument Street.
But Monday, representatives from the historical society, the Society for the Preservation of Federal Hill and Fells Point, the Living Classrooms Foundation and the National Park Service met with Bill Pencek - a city official who promotes local landmarks - to discuss keeping the maritime museum on Thames Street open.
While the Civil War Museum wasn't discussed, Pencek, the director of the Baltimore City Heritage Area, said there could be a possibility of future meetings.
At the meeting, many options were on the table - including redefining the maritime museum's mission - but it produced no firm decisions, Pencek said. He stressed that the process was at a very early stage.
"The meeting was very preliminary," said Pencek, who described it as "a conversation" among the groups and city. "Mayor [Sheila] Dixon is deeply committed to Baltimore's cultural resources and certainly would like to avoid closing the institution if that can be accomplished."
Rob Rogers, the historical society's director, said last week the closures were necessary to ensure the society's future because both museums were money-losing operations. The museums lost about $50,000 last year, Rogers said.
The historical society has operated the maritime museum since 2003 in cooperation with the Preservation Society, which owns the building. The society has run the Civil War museum at Fleet and President streets since 1998. Both museums have a budget of about $100,000 and draw 12,000 to 13,000 visitors a year, Rogers said.
After Monday's meeting, he said he was encouraged by the interest expressed among those present.
"Bill asked for a meeting to discuss the future of the [maritime museum] and feel out the possibilities, whether that involved keeping the museum as it is or something else," Rogers said. "We talked about what might be involved and the realities of the numbers, but there wasn't an offer or a deal on the table."
Rogers said no more meetings are scheduled but that Pencek promised to keep in touch. Last week, Rogers said the historical society was also exploring turning over the Civil War museum to the B&O Railroad Museum.
Several participants in Monday's meeting said it would take time to develop concrete proposals for saving the maritime museum.
"We're just in the brainstorming phase," said Gay Vietzke, superintendent of the Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine, which is operated by the National Park Service.
"We'd like to help support institutions that are telling complementary stories to the ones we are telling, and the maritime museum does that," he added, "but we're just beginning to think what the possibilities might be."
Ellen von Karajan, director of the Preservation Society, said it would be a shame for a major port city like Baltimore to close the maritime museum.
"The Preservation Society is looking at every possibility to keep it open, or to improve or enhance it," she said. "In the nonprofit world, there's a lot of cross-pollination of ideas that goes on. That's basically what we were doing" Monday.
All of the organizations were concerned, however, that whatever solution is arrived at would be economically viable.
James Piper Bond, president and CEO of the Living Classrooms Foundation, which operates the Frederick Douglass-Isaac Myers Maritime Park, the Constellation and other projects, cautioned that none of the groups could afford to ignore the bottom line.
"The Living Classroom Foundation is pleased to play a role in trying to help," Bond said. "But whatever solution is arrived at, whoever takes it on, we need to make sure we have the right leadership in place, the right arrangement with the city and the community, and a minimum of three to five years funding. It's a resource issue."