Big changes ahead for the Children’s Museum

The museum has made plans for a new building

More stories from Alanna Huggett

Pura Vida
May 15, 2019

Photo by Kar Wei Cheng

The Children’s Museum of Eau Claire is currently located at 220 S. Barstow St., Eau Claire.

The Children’s Museum of Eau Claire is planning to move to a new location sometime late in 2020 or early 2021, said museum executive director Michael McHorney. The Eau Claire Redevelopment Authority chose Pablo Properties at their Nov. 21 meeting to work on a development plan with the city and arrange a purchase in 90 days, McHorney said.

“Current plans call for the Children’s Museum to own its building and we are currently working with Pablo Properties to determine the construction of our building,” McHorney said.

The new museum will be built in Block Seven, located in the North Barstow business district, just across the river from where the Children’s Museum is presently located, McHorney said. The current cost proposal is about $32 million, Pablo Properties partner Zach Halmstad said.

McHorney said the Eau Claire Children’s Museum board of directors suggested to the museum that it pursue Block Seven as a location for a new building to ensure community impact. The new site would ensure impact both for the short-term (over the next five to ten years) and the long-term (in the next 20 to 30 years), McHorney said.

“We also want to continue to grow and serve the community for the next 20 to 30 years and continue to have the impact that we’ve had and even grow that some more,” McHorney said. “It just quickly became a realization that that couldn’t happen in this space.”

The new location will allow the Children’s Museum to increase space by 5,000 square feet, offer an outdoor green space for learning, add off-street parking, improve safety and accessibility, replace aging exhibits and develop innovative partnerships with other local non-profits, McHorney said.

There are plans to keep some of the museum’s most popular exhibits while also developing new ones, McHorney said.

“Many people from our community gave their time, talent and treasure to see our current building get to the point that it has during the last fourteen years,” McHorney said. “A goal of this project is to honor and build off the legacy that’s been created from this community of people.”

Pablo Properties first connected with the Eau Claire Children’s Museum through their connection to McHorney, Halmstad said.

“We have known Mike McHorney from the Children’s Museum for quite a while,” Halmstad said. “As we started building a proposal for Block Seven, we heard that the Children’s Museum was looking for a new home. We had coffee with Mike to help understand the space needs as well as the functionality needs.”

Pablo Properties had been looking at Block Seven for quite some time as an opportunity to build additional Class A office space downtown, Halmstad said. Pablo Properties’ current plans for Block Seven specify roughly 125,000 square feet for retail and office space, as well as underground parking, Halmstad said.

“Talking with Mike, it seemed to be a perfect location to keep the Children’s Museum downtown and move it closer to Phoenix Park,” Halmstad said.

Pablo Properties also built the Jamf office building, renovated the Lismore Hotel and worked with some other local people to renovate the Oxbow Hotel, Halmstad said. Pablo Properties is currently working on renovating the Salsbury Flats on Grand Avenue and the former Syverson home next the YMCA, he said.

“We hope that a new and modern space for the Children’s Museum will allow them to continue and expand their incredible programming,” Halmstad said. “We believe that the office and retail space will attract additional business and employees to downtown Eau Claire.”

Pablo Properties and their architects are working with the Children’s Museum of Eau Claire to figure out what the space will look like, Halmstad said.

“We hope to break ground on our project in spring of 2019,” Halmstad said, “with a desired move-in date in 2020.”

Huggett can be reached at [email protected]