The Children’s Museum of Eau Claire has taken the first step toward building a newer, bigger home for juvenile joy on North Barstow Street in Eau Claire. If everything goes as planned, the new museum could open in the later part of 2021.
“To me, it’s all about creating an experience for our visitors,” explained Michael McHorney, the museum’s executive director. Preliminary plans for the new building, which would be in the 100 block of North Barstow, include at least 5,000 square feet more inside as well as 5,000 square feet outdoors for exhibits and play. The new location will also offer better access to parking and a safer entrance set further back from the street, McHorey said.
In early October, Eau Claire’s Redevelopment Authority voted to pursue an agreement with the Children’s Museum and its partner, Monarch Ventures, to build on what’s nicknamed the “liner site” – an empty lot between North Barstow and the new(ish) downtown parking ramp.
The museum, Monarch Ventures, and the RDA are now in negotiations to finalize the deal, a process that could take up to 90 days, said Aaron White, the city’s economic development manager. Once a memorandum of understanding is completed, a developer agreement will be reached, and construction will follow. While there’s no definite timeline yet, White said construction wouldn’t begin until spring 2020 at the earlier.
The “liner site,” where the downtown post office stood until a few years ago, covers about six-tenths of an acre and is bordered by the parking ramp, North Barstow Street, Galloway Street, and Riverfront Terrace. The RDA chose the plan from the Children’s Museum and Monarch over one from Merge Urban Development Group of Cedar Falls, Iowa.
The Children’s Museum proposal includes a two-story, 23,500-square-foot museum next to a 27,000-square-foot building that would house a first-floor restaurant and two stories of commercial space. The 9,000-square-foot eatery, which would be owned by Hudson restaurateur Andrew Kron, would include covered and outdoor patios for diners. (Officials are mum about the details of the restaurant.)
The new children’s museum would be larger than the current 15,400-square-foot facility at 220 S. Barstow St. and would include larger exhibit space, a food and beverage option, and 5,000 square feet of green space as well as facilities for the Family Resource Center of Eau Claire and a 4-year-old kindergarten in partnership with the Eau Claire school district.
Last year, a new Children’s Museum was part of a proposal to redevelop an adjacent lot known as Block 7. The RDA selected that plan – which came from Eau Claire-based Pablo Properties – after a request for proposals from developers. However, Pablo Properties decided earlier this year that the project – which also included an office building, a public plaza, and a “container park” on the liner site – wasn’t financially viable. This sent the RDA, and the Children’s Museum, back to square one.
However, that situation wasn’t a total setback for the Children’s Museum. “For us, we were able to get a start on our floorplans and what the building would look like, and that has carried on to the current iteration,” McHorney said.