Skip to content
Join our Newsletter

Exploration Place CEO welcomes $500,000 loan from regional district

Museum missed "prime earning stretch" due to delay in reopening, says Tracey Calogheros
Exhibit Shop with Living Wall Pieces
The Exploration Place CEO Tracy Calogheros welcomed the $500,00 provided by the Fraser-Fort George Regional District to keep the city's museum after an extensive renovation last year delayed its opening until the fall.

The Exploration Place chief executive officer Tracey Calogheros says she is pleased but not surprised by the Fraser-Fort George Regional District board of directors decision to loan the museum $500,000.

"The regional district has always been a partner and realistically, what we're asking for here is a loan, not extra new money or a grant," Calogheros said Friday. "I didn't think there would be a lot of opposition to allowing the museum a little bit more runway to be able to get all our other programs up an running."

Under the terms FFGRD directors approved Thursday during their monthly regular meeting, starting in January 2025 the museum will begin paying back the loan in quarterly instalments of $31,115 that will be taken off the roughly $185,000 The Exploration Place receives every three months from the FFGRD in grant money.

Interest on the loan will amount to four per cent per year and will add up to $60,077.88 by the time the loan has been paid off on April 1, 2029.

"They take the money straight off the top, so there is no danger of the payments not being made back to the regional district," Calogheros said.

The museum will get some relief by spring 2026, when another loan from the FFGRD that began in 2001 to cover the cost of the museum building and the land it is sitting on, has been paid off. Annual servicing of the loan stood at $113,141 in 2023, according to audited financial statements.

"That money will come straight back to the museum, so really we're trading one debt for another and extending the length of the time for paying that money back to the regional district itself," Calogheros said.

"They held off on taking money from us until the first quarter of 2025 which is a huge help because this year will also be difficult and 2025 will also be tight by my projections," Calogheros said.

"But when we get into the spring of 2026 is when we'll be able to get a bit more breathing room."

Calogheros said management and the museum's board of trustees has been working on the proposal for more than a year, which left her a little confused by the strong words City of Prince George director Brian Skakun had prior to voting against approving the loan.

Among his complaints and accusations was that no one from the museum or its society was present at the meeting to field questions. Calogheros was in the gallery, but said she was "specifically told prior to the meeting" that there was no provision for public presentations.

"I went to that meeting in case they decided to stray from their own rules and ask questions directly of me, but I knew that there was no opportunity for me to speak to them directly at that moment," Calogheros said.

Prior to issuing a public notice on the topic, the FFGRD insisted on holding meetings to discuss the proposal in-camera "over my board's protest."

"We were quite happy to be public about this all the way along about all of this," Calogheros said. "We're an open charity and open with our funds and numbers. Everything is available."

The museum's financial woes have been attributed to a later-than-planned reopening, to the tune of about six months, following a $1.4-million renovation that began after pandemic forced the museum to close in March 2020.

Calogheros said she was constantly being reassured that the work would be finished on time.

"I didn't even understand that there was going to be a delay until we were three weeks out from our opening day which was mid-May of 2022," Calogheros said.

At one point, said Calogheros, she had been assured that the museum would be reopened by Labour Day 2022.

"So I had to be staffed up, I had to bring staff in, I had done marketing, I closed our shop at Pine Centre Mall which we had been running very successfully because I knew we would need the staff in house," Calogheros said. "And then the rug gets pulled out from under us and we are unable to open."

At the end of October 2022, and more than 2 1/2 years after it had closed, The Exploration Place had finally reopened its doors.

"When you don't open from May to October, I mean that is our prime earning stretch," Calogheros said. "Not only did I have to pay twice for marketing but I had all sorts of staffing issues - I had to hire people and then layoff - it was a nightmare, it was a true nightmare.

"But we were not alone. Everybody in that stretch of time worldwide was having the same kind of false starts and stops and uncertainties," Calogheros said.

If she had a chance to do it all over again, Calogheros said she would have been more hands on instead of relying on a construction manager and would have included penalties in the contract for failing to meet deadlines.

"My biggest regrets are spending a bunch of money advertising and opening that didn't happen for six months and that I allowed it to drag as long as it did," Calogheros said.

Effective June 30, Calogheros will retire from the after a 30-year tenure at the museum, with 20 of those years as CEO. A call for trustees has also been issued, with an April 22 deadline for applications.

"Almost my entire career with the museum has been about trying to find a way to do more with less money," Calogheros said. "We have been dealing with debt and debt servicing since before I took over in 2003.

"We're very lean and we are very good at running on not a whole lot of money so my hope is that this next iteration of the museum will take all of the pieces that we've put together and build programming that is not only affordable and relevant to the community but that will continue to educate and inspire and create that forum for a civil society that every community needs right now."