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Sun, Sep 17, 2006

Long Island Air Museum In Peril

Cradle (...of Aviation Museum) May Fall

Five months after a last-ditch bailout plan was approved by Nassua County, it appears the Long Island-based Cradle of Aviation Museum is undergoing the museum equivalent of an in-flight emergency... and may plummet out of control in less than two months.

Long Island, NY is justly proud of its aviation heritage. It is the place from where Charles Lindbergh took off in the Spirit of St. Louis, and the Long Island-built lunar excursion module, Eagle, landed Neil Armstrong on the moon. Grumman Corporation,(called the "iron works" because of their rugged heavy-duty designs) built well-loved fighters for the Navy from the Wildcat to the Tomcat. So it seemed perfectly reasonable to open a full-sized flight museum called the Cradle of Aviation.

Just yards from where Lindbergh began his famous journey, the museum was created in a group of abandonded hangars at Mitchel Field. It had taken 33 years, but with the active encouragement of the county, and a seemingly boundless supply of eager retired Grumman workers as volunteers,  the museum opened its doors in 2002. It is now considered by many aviation enthusiasts to be one of the finest in the nation.

Though over half a million visitors were forecast to attend the Cradle of Aviation Museum annually, fewer than 150,000 visited last year, according to the Long Island Press.

So the problem is financing, naturally. The museum took on major debt at the beginning, and it only fell behind year after year. Last week the the chairman of the board, Sean Fanelli, who is also the president of Nassau Community College, resigned in frustration. In the meantime, the president of the Cradle museum, Eric Ricioppo, has received harsh criticism for not actively raising funds.

Though he fired 25 part-time staffers, he is still drawing a salary of $10,000 a month. Ricioppo has even been accused of directing traffic in the parking lot instead of performing his more executive functions.

The Long Island Press continued that County Comptroller Howard Weitzman says "This is one of the most important cultural institutions on Long Island. The board has to get its act together to save it."

He estimates the museum will be completely out of money in November. There are no new funding sources anywhere on the horizon.

FMI: www.cradleofaviation.org

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