The Children’s Museum of Eau Claire would move into a new, larger home in downtown, under a plan moving forward Thursday with the Eau Claire Redevelopment Authority.
The RDA board reviewed two proposals for redeveloping the vacant lot at 126 N. Barstow St., and members opted to enter into a memorandum of understanding with the museum and Monarch Ventures, which is planning to build a three-story building that includes a restaurant and commercial space.
The museum and the Monarch Ventures facility would share the lot, with the buildings constructed in a U-shape, creating a courtyard in the middle, said Eau Claire’s economic development manager, Aaron White.
“Each will run their own space within the lot,” White said.
Often referred to as the “liner site,” the vacant lot is next to the city’s parking ramp in the North Barstow area.
Mike McHorney, executive director of the Children’s Museum of Eau Claire, was thrilled that the RDA opted for their plan.
“The Children’s Museum is very thrilled to have some clarity and direction of where we can be,” McHorney said after Thursday’s RDA meeting. “It’s the first step in the process. We’re just grateful to have the opportunity.”
McHorney added: “This is an opportunity to do better and dream bigger as an organization. We think we can make this a unique, one-of-a-kind children’s experience.”
The preliminary plans call for the children’s museum to be two-story, 23,500-square-feet building, and the Monarch Ventures building being three stories and 27,000 square feet in size.
The other proposal, which was rejected, was for a seven-story building constructed by Merge Urban Development, with ground-level stores, 91 apartments, and office spaces. The RDA opted to work with the museum and Monarch Ventures because of the importance of the museum, White said.
“They just saw a lot of value in having that organization and facility in the downtown,” White said. “That space allows them to accomplish that. It’s close to the hearts of a lot of people in the community.”
By agreeing to the memorandum of understanding, the RDA will now enter into negotiations with the two entities, which could take up to 90 days, White said. He said construction could begin next spring.
“I’m very happy to have a project picked, and moving forward, and getting that built,” White said.
Monarch Ventures operates a number of successful restaurants, White said. The company is planning to put commercial space and offices on the top two floors, White said.
White is optimistic that Merge Urban Development will look at other possibilities in the city.
“They have a strong interest in the community, and will continue to seek out other development opportunities,” White said.
McHorney declined to release a cost estimate for the new children’s museum. The current building is 15,400 square feet, so the new building would have 5,000 more square feet of indoor exhibit space, along with 5,000 square feet of outdoor exhibit space.
The current museum is located at 220 S. Barstow St.
“We own the building,” McHorney said. “Our plan is to list it for sale in the near future. It’s a good location in downtown.”
McHorney said his goal would be for construction to begin in the spring, with the new museum opening in fall 2021.