Betty Brinn Children’s Museum drops plans for co-location at new Milwaukee Public Museum

Last updated on April 11th, 2022 at 03:39 pm

Betty Brinn Children’s Museum has decided not to co-locate its museum with the new Milwaukee Public Museum, citing changes in its budget.

The children’s museum announced in 2020 its plans to occupy space within MPM’s future museum downtown.

Plans called for Betty Brinn to occupy 33,000 square feet specifically designed for the children’s museum within the planned 230,000-square-foot public museum, which will be built at the northeast corner of North Sixth Street and McKinley Avenue in downtown Milwaukee

The children’s museum on Friday said it has parted ways with the MPM project and has decided to not pursue a new construction building at the moment.

“As the planning process unfolded through 2021 and early 2022, budgetary calculations changed dramatically, both due to external pressures related to inflation and updated plans that would have called for additional costs to design and construct BBCM exhibits,” the statement said. “These factors led BBCM to the difficult decision that it should not build and operate a new construction children’s museum as part of this project.”

Betty Brinn will remain at its current location in the O’Donnell Park complex while it considers other options, the statement said. The museum has been in its current home for 27 years. Leaders have previously said it is too small for the museum’s needs.

“Though we have been energized by the process of imagining a new space and the possibilities associated with co-locating with MPM, we also must be realistic and responsible financial stewards for the long-term future of Betty Brinn Children’s Museum,” said Greg Nickerson, board chair of Betty Brinn Children’s Museum. “Given rising costs associated with our exhibit plans, the BBCM Board of Directors has made the difficult decision to withdraw from the project and rethink our future plans. We truly wish MPM the best and wholeheartedly support their project.”

Brian King, chief executive officer of Betty Brinn, cited the pandemic and inflation for the decision, saying both affected its exhibit budget projections. Those estimates were made in mid-2020.

In a statement Friday, MPM said it “remains committed to its new museum project.” To date, the $240 million project has secured $45 million from the county and $40 million in state funding, paving the way for the museum to go public with its planned $150 million fundraising campaign.

It did not say whether Betty Brinn’s decision to pull out of the project will affect the size of MPM’s new building.

Betty Brinn closed in March 2020 due to the pandemic and remained shuttered until May 2021. It again closed temporarily in December 2021 because of pandemic-related staffing challenges, as cases surged at the year’s end.

MPM closed at the onset of the pandemic and reopened briefly during the summer of 2020 before closing due to a spike in cases during the fall. It has remained open since March 2021.

Prior to the pandemic, MPM attracted about 550,000 visitors annually, and BBCM saw about 200,000.

“Planning for a new museum is certainly a challenge in the best of times, much less during a global pandemic and period of rising inflation,” said P.J. DiStefano, board chair of MPM. “The milestones we have achieved in pursuing a new museum have required much creativity and flexibility, and we recognize that the BBCM board of directors knows what is in the best interest of their patrons and the future of their institution and we wish them the best.”

Current timelines have construction on the new MPM beginning in 2023 for final completion in 2026.

“We are pleased with the progress we have achieved toward the development of our new museum, particularly the enthusiastic public support both the State of Wisconsin and Milwaukee County have demonstrated as they committed funding for our project,” said Ellen Censky, president and CEO of MPM. “While the addition of the Betty Brinn Children’s Museum would have added to the visitor experience, we understand that financial conditions have necessitated that they go in a different direction. We remain confident that visitors of all ages will be captivated by the new museum experience.”

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