By Jonathan Allen
NEW YORK (Reuters) - New York City's Metropolitan Museum of Art, one of the world's most visited museums, is in talks with city officials about charging a fixed admission fee for out-of town visitors, rather than urging a donation, the city said on Wednesday.
The museum, the largest in the United States, sits on the edge of Central Park on land leased rent-free by the city in 1878 on condition that the museum be free to the public. Since 1971, it has charged visitors what it calls a "suggested" fee, currently $25, though many visitors opt to pay less.
"We have spoken to the Metropolitan Museum about the possibility of changing its admission structure -- not for New Yorkers, but for out of town visitors," Tom Finkelpearl, the city's cultural affairs commissioner, said in a statement on Wednesday. "Should we receive a formal proposal, we will consider it."
Ann Bailis, a museum spokeswoman, said the latest talks were only "preliminary." The discussions were first reported by the New York Times.
It was unclear how much the admission fee would be if it came to pass, and the museum did not respond to questions seeking further details.
The city updated its lease with the museum in 2013 to allow the museum to "set the terms of admission" to its galleries with the approval of the city's cultural affairs commissioner.
Critics reacted by saying the new lease language could open the door to setting a mandatory admission fee, but the museum said at the time this idea was not even under consideration.
The museum receives more than 6 million visitors a year, more than two-thirds of whom hail from outside the city. It has struggled to close a budget deficit, which amounted to more than $8 million last year, according to its most recent annual report.
Thomas Campbell stepped down from his job as the museum's director in February amid criticism by some trustees over his management of the budget.
The museum received $27 million in support from New York City in 2016.
(Reporting by Jonathan Allen; Editing by Sandra Maler)