Joint Finance Committee approves $40 million in state funds for new Milwaukee Public Museum

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

Last updated on June 10th, 2021 at 03:02 pm

The Milwaukee Public Museum’s request for $40 million in bonded funds to support its planned new downtown home has received the approval of the state Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee.

The Republican-controlled JFC’s funding endorsement is a significant step toward MPM receiving state funds for its project, which Gov. Tony Evers also recommended in his proposed biennial budget.

MPM president and chief executive officer Ellen Censky said the committee’s budget approval is “the necessary funding catalyst” for the $240 million project, which includes building a new museum, moving collections from the current location and growing the organization’s endowment.

“The state’s investment in this project enables us to proceed with design and development plans and provides the necessary foundation for private investment, which will fund the majority of the project’s cost,” Censky said.

Censky has said the museum will seek about $150 million in private donations to fund the project, but it has not yet gone public with a fundraising campaign.

The museum would need another $50 million in public dollars to make up the gap. Censky has said it is seeking additional federal and county funding.

The new museum is 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 in downtown Milwaukee. It would replace MPM’s current 400,000-square-foot, county-owned facility at 800 W. Wells St., where the museum’s accreditation status is in jeopardy due to its deteriorating conditions.

The new facility would also be the new home to Betty Brinn Children’s Museum, which plans to relocate from its current 929 E. Wisconsin Ave. building near the downtown lakefront. The Betty Brinn portion of the project will be funded through private donations.

MPM is considering a name change for the new facility to reflect its status as a Wisconsin natural history museum with statewide reach.

“The state of Wisconsin, through an act of legislation in 1882, brought the museum into existence,” Censky said in a statement following the JFC decision. “140 years later, this decision reiterates the state’s commitment to protecting the more than four million objects and specimens in our care for preservation, research and exhibition and ensuring Wisconsinites have access to this exceptional educational resource for generations to come.”

MPM plans to break ground for the new facility in 2023, for a planned opening in late 2025 or early 2026.

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Lauren Anderson covers health care, nonprofits and education for BizTimes. Lauren previously reported on education for the Waukesha Freeman. She graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she studied journalism. In her free time, Lauren enjoys hiking, kayaking, and seeing live music.

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