Milwaukee Public Museum eyes $150 million fundraising campaign for new home

The Streets of Old Milwaukee at Milwaukee Public Museum.

Last updated on April 19th, 2021 at 01:56 pm

Milwaukee Public Museum’s $240 million plan to build a new home in downtown will require a $150 million private campaign, president and chief executive officer Ellen Censky said.

The remaining $90 million would come from public sources, Censky told Rotary Club of Milwaukee members this week.

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.

The costs for the development and construction of the new facility are projected at $170 million, but that total swells to $240 million when including the cost of purchasing the site, transitioning to the new building and moving collections, building out space for Betty Brinn Children’s Museum and growing MPM’s endowment.

As far as large fundraising campaigns go, a $150 million target would position MPM “between (Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra) and the art museum”, referring to the Calatrava addition in the early 2000s. MSO leaders say they are nearing completion on the $139 million campaign to support the Bradley Symphony Center project and build the organization’s endowment.

“So, it’s not the biggest private fundraising done in this community,” Censky said. “But, again, remember we consider ourselves not just this community’s museum, but the whole state’s museum, so we will not just be raising money in this community; we plan that to be a statewide effort.”

MPM leaders have made a push to market the museum as a statewide institution in recent years, highlighting that it attracts visitors from across the state, including school field trips from 44 counties. Censky said the possibility of changing MPM’s name with the new building is “under discussion.”

MPM is seeking $40 million in state funding for the project as part of Gov. Tony Evers’ 2021-’23 budget proposal. The state Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee has not yet reviewed Evers’ funding recommendation, but the proposal did not receive an endorsement from the State Building Commission in March.

Katie Sanders, MPM chief planning officer, said leaders have been meeting regularly with legislators to discuss the project and have invited them for tours of the current facility.

“We’re just explaining the story and helping inform them as to the need for the project, and we’re quite encouraged with the conversations that we have been having,” Sanders said.

Censky said MPM is seeking county funds and exploring possible federal dollars as well.

“To get this done, we know it needs to be a public-private venture,” Censky said.

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.Earlier this year, the museum’s application for re-accreditation was tabled by its national museum association as it works toward building a new facility.

MPM would own its new building, though its collections would remain owned by the county.

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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