Fort Discovery for sale

Fort Discovery is closing, but when is unknown.

The two-story, 128,000-square-foot space on Riverwalk Augusta has been listed with Meybohm Realtors, said Rob Dennis, the president and CEO of the National Science Center Inc., the public-private partnership between the nonprofit and the Army that operates Fort Discovery and is housed there. Mr. Dennis said there is no deadline for the sale and the fate of the exhibits has not yet been determined.

Repeated efforts to reach Meybohm to confirm the listing Friday were unsuccessful.

The driving force behind selling the space and closing the museum is the organization's mission to provide educational outreach nationally in science, technology, engineering and math, Mr. Dennis said.

"This was a proactive decision for the board," he said.

"We could have kept doing business as usual, but if we did that, we certainly wouldn't have been successful in our mission and we would've risked the entire enterprise and partnership by doing it."

Until the space is sold, the science center will continue to operate on its three-day schedule of Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays -- a change that was announced as part of the National Science Center's restructuring plan in August.

"The National Science Center partnership doesn't want to be deterred from meeting this national mission. That is the focus right now," he said. "And while ... we've had a good run with Fort Discovery, it's been a challenging run with Fort Discovery; 128,000 square feet is an awful big house to keep up. "

When Fort Discovery closes, it will be missed, said Margaret Woodard, the executive director of the Downtown Development Authority. "When people come downtown to Fort Discovery, they also spend money in the restaurants and businesses, so it would be a significant loss for downtown," she said.

It will also be a loss of a family-friendly attraction, said Barry White, the president and CEO of the Augusta Convention and Visitors Bureau.

"We've been very fortunate to have Fort Discovery in Augusta. It's going to be missed," he said. "It's certainly going to be a loss to our collection of attractions that are of interest to visitors."

Though Augusta is losing the museum, it will hold on to the National Science Center.

Once Fort Discovery's space is sold, the partnership headquarters will move to its 88-acre property adjacent to Fort Gordon and occupy the building it has there.

"Our headquarters are here in Augusta, Ga., and we want to keep them here," Mr. Dennis said.

With the impending closing of Fort Discovery, the partnership has begun to focus on its outreach programs, including the mobile discovery centers and the Fast Track Science, Discovery Academy and Junior ROTC programs.

"We are going to be more effective and more efficient at delivering the products and services to the students and teachers of Augusta, of the CSRA, in the state of Georgia and nationally," Mr. Dennis said.

The National Science Center hopes that the community will continue to support its efforts to promote science, technology, engineering and math, he said.

"No one at the board, or on the Army side of the partnership for that matter, looks forward to closing this building or selling this building, but we are excited about being successful at the mission," he said. "We're excited about long-term viability. That's what all of this is grounded in for the National Science Center."

Reach Nikasha Dicks at (706) 823-3336 or nikasha.dicks@augustachronicle.com.

EVENT TO REMAIN

The Best of Augusta Bash still will be held Thursday at Fort Discovery.

Proceeds from the event benefit the science center, which will continue to operate at the Riverwalk site until it is sold.

FORT DISCOVERY HISTORY

1991: Port Royal, an 18-story luxury condominium complex that includes an indoor mall and 27 high-end stores, opens.

1994: Last store at Shoppes of Port Royal closes.

1994: Port Royal is purchased by two investment companies for $5.2 million, a fraction of the nearly $40 million cost of the project originally.

SEPTEMBER 1995: William S. Morris III, chairman of Morris Communications Corp., donates the former mall space to the National Science Center.

NOVEMBER 1995: The state Board of Education agrees to transfer $10 million in lottery money to help fund Fort Discovery construction.

APRIL 1997: Fort Discovery, a partnership between the Army and National Science Center, opens with interactive science and technology displays.

JUNE 2004: The center cuts two-thirds of the staff and reduces hours when state funds are delayed.

AUGUST: Fort Discovery announces plans to restructure and change its mission.

-- Erin Zureick, staff writer