Evers recommends $40 million for new Milwaukee Public Museum facility

Rendering of a possible Silurian Reef exhibit in the future Milwaukee Public Museum. (Rendering: Luci Creative)

Last updated on February 23rd, 2021 at 07:32 pm

Gov. Tony Evers is recommending the state allocate $40 million for the Milwaukee Public Museum’s planned new downtown facility as part of his proposed 2021-’23 biennial budget.

MPM requested $65 million in state support for the new $170 million natural history museum, planned as a 230,000-square-foot development on a 2.4-acre site at the northeast corner of North Sixth Street and McKinley Avenue.

Total costs for the project are projected at $240 million. That estimate includes the cost of purchasing the site, transition costs, endowment costs, moving collections, and building out a 30,000-square-foot space for Betty Brinn Children’s Museum’s new home within the new facility.

The general fund supported borrowing would be in the form of a construction grant with project developer Historic Haymarket Milwaukee. HHM is a separate entity that is set up to facilitate the acquisition, financing and development of the new site.

Ellen Censky, president and chief executive officer of MPM, applauded the inclusion of $40 million in Evers’ proposed capital budget Monday.

“This is the first of several milestones in the Capital Budget process, and we look forward to working with Governor Evers and the State Legislature to ensure the project remains in the budget, as every culture and corner of our state is reflected in the new museum,” Censky said. “We believe pursuing bonded funds in the State’s Capital Budget is a smart, financially prudent way to plan for the future of this treasured Wisconsin institution and leverages the support of the private sector, which will fund a majority of the project’s cost.”

MPM has for years planned to move from its current aging, county-owned building at 800 W. Wells St. The condition of the 400,000-square-foot facility is deteriorating due to deferred maintenance, which has put the museum’s collections in jeopardy, along with its accreditation status, MPM leaders say.

Plans for the new museum include 80,000-square-feet of exhibit space with several permanent galleries that showcase collections in immersive environments, temporary gallery space for traveling exhibits, a planetarium and vivarium, 43,000-square-feet for collections research and storage, the Betty Brinn Children’s Museum space, classrooms, an auditorium, event venue space, a café and retail store, and an underground parking structure. The Betty Brinn Children’s Museum portion of the project is being funded with private funds.

Also included in Evers’ proposed capital budget is $9.75 million for a planned 60,000-square-foot STEM innovation center at the 107-acre site of the former Chrysler facility in Kenosha. The project, which is estimated to cost $19.5 million, would provide space for nonprofits and higher education and incubator workspace for industry partners at the city-owned site. City and economic development leaders envision the project being a catalyst for creating more jobs and opportunity in Kenosha.

Evers also included $5 million for Beyond Vision’s proposal to open a new 130,000-square-foot center at a former Sam’s Club building in West Allis. The nonprofit social enterprise, which provides employment to people who are visually impaired and blind, plans to relocate from two state-owned facilities on Milwaukee’s west side to the building at 1540 S. 108th St. in West Allis, and co-locate there with other organizations serving the blind and low-vision community. Beyond Vision purchased the former Sam’s Club building for $7.5 million in 2019.

The State Building Commission meets March 17 to vote on the Evers’ capital budget recommendations. Those recommendations must be submitted to the Joint Committee on Finance by April 6.

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