(JTA) — Footwear entrepreneur Stuart Weitzman has come to the rescue of the financially beleaguered National Museum of American Jewish History in Philadelphia.
The museum had racked up $30 million in construction debt and lost ownership of its new building, emerging from Chapter 11 bankruptcy in September. Now, a gift from Weitzman will allow the museum to buy back the building and establish an “eight-figure” endowment, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported on Tuesday.
The institution is being renamed the Weitzman National Museum of American Jewish History.
The museum’s CEO Misha Galperin announced the news on Tuesday in an article for eJewishPhilanthropy. The Inquirer interviewed Galperin, who declined to share the exact amount of the donation but said it provides more than half of the funds needed for an upcoming capital and endowment fundraising campaign.
“I can tell you [the Weitzman gift] has allowed us to buy our building immediately and set up an eight-figure endowment,” Galperin told the Inquirer. “That’s as much as I can say. It’s very significant and it deserves the name of … the museum. It really ensures our future.”
When the museum filed for bankruptcy protection in March 2020, it owed $30 million to bondholders as a result of costs associated with a recent $150 million building project.
The museum was able to come out of bankruptcy by mid-September 2021 after bondholders forgave almost $14 million in debt and the family of business executive Mitchell Morgan agreed to buy the building from the museum for $10 million and lease it back for $1,000 a month.
“The Morgan Family also gave us the option of buying back the building any time over the next 42 months,” Galperin told the Inquirer. “The Weitzman gift will allow us to buy back the building from the Morgan family right away.”
It is not the first time Weitzman has donated to the museum. In 2018, he gave $1 million to establish the First Families Gallery, which is focused on the lives of early Jewish settlers in colonial America.
Weitzman made his fortune as a pioneering shoe designer. The company he founded was acquired by luxury design brand Coach in a $574 million deal in 2015. His wife, Jane Gerson Weitzman, is a member of the board of 70 Faces Media, the nonprofit that operates the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.
Closed for visitors since the pandemic lockdowns, the museum has built up its virtual platform, with six online exhibitions and dozens of programs. Over the past 20 months, four million people have participated in museum activities, according to Galperin.