Geppi's museum in debt from low visitor turnout

October 24, 2008|By Childs Walker | Childs Walker,childs.walker@baltsun.com

Geppi's Entertainment Museum at Camden Yards owes the state about $650,000 in unpaid rent, utility charges and fees accumulated since early last year, according to the Maryland Stadium Authority.

The debts, first reported by The Daily Record, began accruing in January 2007, only a few months after the pop culture museum opened. Despite showcasing founder Stephen A. Geppi's extensive collection of comic books, animation cels, movie posters and other memorabilia, the museum failed to attract as many visitors as projected.

But David A. Raith, interim director of the Stadium Authority, said the agency has negotiated a payment schedule with Geppi that will have the debts resolved by the end of the year.

Geppi, CEO of Diamond Comic Distributors Inc. and also a minority owner of the Orioles, recently paid off $100,000 of the debt and is scheduled to pay off the balance with lump installments at the end of next month and December. The museum has also made its $30,000 rent payments for October and November, Raith said.

Geppi did not respond to calls seeking comment.

The Stadium Authority has the right to terminate Geppi's lease because of the missed payments but has opted to give the museum a shot at survival.

"We think it's a unique museum that fits the overall facility very well," Raith said. "So we want to give them every opportunity to succeed."

Geppi's museum is not the first to face hard times at Camden Yards. Its neighbor, the Sports Legends Museum, also struggled to make rent payments because of lower-than-anticipated gate receipts. That led the Stadium Authority to lower the museum's rent in June 2007 and to forgive more than $400,000 in debt.

"I think it's one of those things where a lot of assumptions were made based on attendance," said Raith, referring to the shrinking crowds for Orioles games.

Executives at both museums hoped to attract fans who were on their way to Camden Yards for games. Now, they're hoping for better financial days because of foot traffic from the recently opened Hilton Baltimore Convention Center Hotel.

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