The Please Touch Museum Is Out of Bankruptcy

The museum has officially settled its $60 million debt for $11.25 million. New CEO Patricia Wellenbach also took over today.

Please Touch Museum - Philadelphia - Memorial Hall

The Please Touch Museum in 2014. (Photo: Jeff Fusco)

The Please Touch Museum’s 2008 move to Memorial Hall in Fairmount Park did not work out as planned. Revenue from admissions did not reach projected levels. Neither did donations. And the old Please Touch building did not sell for what the museum had originally hoped for.

Financial problems dogged the Please Touch Museum, and last year it filed for bankruptcy. It was $60 million in debt, but had negotiated it down to $11.25 million.

Today, a judge approved that plan: The Please Touch Museum is out of bankruptcy; its debt has been reduced. Almost $8 million was raised, exceeding what the museum needed to pay off its debt. In all, the museum paid $8.25 million, with an additional $3 million in reserve funds also going to bondholders.

Please Touch Museum - SEPTA bus

Photo via Please Touch Museum

“This is a seminal moment for the museum,” CEO Patricia Wellenbach told Philadelphia magazine. “We will now be an organization that is debt-free. We now have working capital that we’ve been able to raise. So we can reimagine the organization and create new exhibits for children and families.”

The City of Philadelphia, as well as many local creditors, agreed to take less than what was owed as part of a way to help the Please Touch Museum come out of Chapter 11 bankruptcy. The museum raised about $8 million in four and a half months.

“The Museum would like to thank the William Penn and Neubauer Family Foundations, as their support was truly pivotal for our fundraising campaign and served as a catalyst for other donors by affirming confidence and believing in our future,” Sally W. Stetson, chair of the board of directors, said in a release. “We also thank Bankruptcy Court Judge Judith FitzSimon for her time and effort in presiding over our successful reorganization in her court. With the financial issues now behind us, we could not be more excited about what’s in store for Please Touch Museum.”

Not long after declaring bankruptcy, the Please Touch got two donations worth $1.25 million. In November, it got another huge donation, this one worth $3.25 million. The museum is still looking to raise $2 million more.

“The Please Touch Museum is one of our city’s most treasured assets. As one of the region’s top 10 most-visited destinations, it has reactivated and restored a national historic landmark,” said Laura Sparks, Executive Director of the William Penn Foundation. “Consistently recognized as one of the country’s top children’s museums and on a strong path forward to developing even more ways to engage young children in the love of learning, the Please Touch Museum’s future looks bright.”

Former CEO Lynn McMaster also announced last year she was stepping down and would be replaced by Wellenbach. That move became official today.

“It’s a tremendous honor to serve this institution,” Wellenbach said. “I’m grateful to have been able to learn from Lynn McMaster over these past few months, and thankful for her steady hand during a very difficult stretch in the Museum’s 40 year history. Thanks to her and so many others, we’re in a strong position moving forward. Our team is ready.”

Wellenbach said the next step is to design a “very bold” strategic plan for the future of the museum, one that will take it through the next 3 to 5 years and into the future.

“We’re going to take a good look at everything,” Wellenbach said. “It’s time to refresh the organization. We’re going to take look at inclusivity, digital experiences… there is a lot to do. We want to do it smart and do it well. It’s a wonderful day for the organization.”

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