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Vancouver's iconic Science World may not be able to stay open after restrictions lifted: CEO

The Sea Wall, downtown condos and Science World on Main Street in Vancouver's False Creek are seen here from the air in the summer of 2019. (Riley Phillips for NEWS 1130)

Science World warns it may not be able to reopen after the COVID-19 pandemic

CEO says federal wage subsidy is helping keep Science World afloat right now

85 per cent of Science World's revenue comes from admissions and events

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – It’s been an iconic building in Vancouver for decades, but now, Science World is the latest attraction admitting it may not be able to reopen once the COVID-19 pandemic has passed.

The CEO of the not-for-profit says staff are doing everything they can to ensure they can reopen the doors to the centre after restrictions are relaxed or lifted, but the longer the pandemic continues, she admits the harder that becomes.

“You know, initially none of us thought we would be closed for more than a few weeks,” Janet Wood, President and CEO of Science World, tells NEWS 1130.

She says 85 per cent of Science World’s revenue comes from admissions and events, money which has disappeared since the attraction was forced to close last month, on March 14.

“We get only about two per cent of our funding from the government, so without visitors to the dome, we literally have almost no revenue,” Wood adds. “Our run-rate is about $1-million a month, in terms of expenses. We’re doing everything we can to decrease that.”

In order to cut expenses, she says Science World has had to lay off all part-time staff, while full-time staff have taken paycuts, including her own 40 per cent pay decrease.

Wood notes the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy has helped them stay afloat, for now, however, the months ahead could determine the future of the organization.

“As it stands right now, when the subsidy ends, if we aren’t able to reopen at that time, we will only have three to four months before we will be broke,” Wood explains, adding full-time staff are now working on some key projects amid the closure.

“One in creating content, things that are valuable to the community and British Columbians, now, and the second is looking at how can we evolve, as an organization, given there may be some hesitancy by visitors to be in a high-touch, interactive environment. So are there are some things we can do to still keep all the fabulous things that we do at Science World, but have a few more options that does not involve so much high-touch.”

Wood admits the last few weeks have been a rollercoaster, especially without any indication of how long the current state of things may last.

“We’ve only got three to four months that we could stay alive, effectively, after the subsidy ends. It’s such a significant contributor to funding our employees right now — for that we’re very grateful. Our donors, the community, have also come through for us, but, unfortunately, neither of those two things alone are enough.”

She says Science World will take its lead based on what the province and provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry say, but expects reduced admissions at the dome will be the new normal for a time.

“In March of 2019, we had almost 3,000 visitors a day … Our expectation is that’s not going to be possible when we reopen,” Wood says. “We may or may not be able to do events. We hold weddings and staff parties and fundraising events at Science World, so those things will likely be also reduced.”

For now, she says it’s a waiting game. The assumption is Science World could reopen in the late summer or early fall, but Wood stresses that will depend on direction from the government.

Science World has more than 900,000 visitors a year. It was voted the Most Iconic Building in Vancouver in the summer of 2019.

“We just don’t want to see Science World close. We just feel like that would be such a tragedy for Vancouver and British Columbia.”

Earlier this week, the Vancouver Aquarium’s operator warned it too could be forced to close its doors without government assistance.

-With files from Kareem Gouda