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UPDATE 1-N.Y. sports museum operator files bankruptcy

(Adds quotes from founder)

NEW YORK, March 16 (Reuters) - National Sports Attraction LLC, which operated the Sports Museum of America in New York City, has filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy, setting the stage for it to liquidate its assets.

The for-profit museum, a $100 million facility opened last May, had struggled with low attendance, and closed its doors in February. It was intended to be the permanent home of the Heisman Trophy, college football’s top honor.

“The U.S. is a sports-crazed nation,” said Philip Schwalb, the museum’s founder, who said he is discussions with several buyers who might be interested in reopening the museum.

The museum filed for bankruptcy protection on Friday in U.S. bankruptcy court in Manhattan, listing assets of $55.6 million and total debt of $177 million.

“I refuse to believe there’s not a place for a museum like this one,” said Schwalb.

Schwalb estimated the museum would need about 275,000 visitors annually to break even, but had been on pace for 120,000 visitors in its first year when it closed.

The museum housed the Billie Jean King International Women’s Sports Center, named after the tennis champion, and a collection of memorabilia on loan from individuals and sports organizations across the United States.

That memorabilia included New York Yankees player Derek Jeter’s Little League jersey and the U.S. flag in which Jim Craig draped himself after the U.S Olympic hockey team beat the Soviet Union in an upset at Lake Placid, New York in 1980.

Last week, the Sports Museum of Los Angeles, founded by Los Angeles businessman Gary Cypres, shut its doors to the general public three months after its opening, citing low attendance. It will remain open for private functions.

Earlier this month, the Sports Museum of America said it was seeking to sell its facility and retail businesses for $5 million.

Schwalb pinned the blamed on the museum’s failure on the “poorly executed” promotion campaign he said was impeded by a $6 million construction cost overrun that ate into the museum’s cash reserves.

Construction of the museum, located near Wall Street, was funded by $52 million of tax-exempt and $5 million of taxable Liberty bonds issued by the Empire State Development Corp in 2006.

Liberty bonds were part of a $20 billion package Congress granted New York City to assist an economic recovery in Lower Manhattan after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center.

The case is in Re: National Sports Attraction LLC, U.S. Bankruptcy Court, Southern District of New York, No 09-11162. (Editing by Andre Grenon)

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