Catherine W. Idzerda" />

Museum price tag could be $7 million

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Catherine W. Idzerda
Monday, August 11, 2008
— A children's museum could be a critical component of the renaissance of downtown Janesville.

The price tag?

Between $5 million and $7 million of public and private funds—and that's without site costs.

City planners, working with the city administrator's office, are recommending the council support the venture with $5 million to help with up-front costs and up to $125,000 in annual operating costs. The recommendation is to challenge Janesville Museum Inc., the group interested in creating a museum, to raise the same amount.

The council will review the consultants' report and discuss options at study session at 4:30 p.m. Tuesday.

"We're very pleased with the report," said Ron Ochs, president of the Janesville Museum Inc. steering committee. "From the very get go, the idea was that a public-private partnership was critical to its success."

But it's still a long way from being a done deal. Tuesday's study session is preliminary discussion. Any proposal would have to be voted on by the council, and no money would be released until the private fundraising is done.

In a July 20 memo, city planners laid out three options for the council:

-- Support the museum with $5 million up front and between $75,000 and $125,000 in annual operating costs. Money would be released until the Janesville Museum Inc. raised at least $3 million.

-- Support the concept of the museum, but at a smaller size and cost.

-- Determine that the community cannot put public money into a children's museum and ask that it be brought back at a later date.

Ochs and his team hired Vandewalle & Assocaites and The Maude Group to study children's museums in other cities, come up with conservative attendance numbers, estimate costs to keep the museum running and find potential sites.

According to the consultants' report, it would cost approximately $648,000 a year to run the museum with a full-time staff of seven. Annual attendance would be about 51,670 and revenues would come to $409,000 with an admission of $6 per person.

The additional $238,000 needed each year would have to come from grants, endowments, donations and a city contribution of $75,000 to $125,000.

About 20 sites were considered for the museum, and four sites were analyzed in depth.

Ochs stressed that the sites were "pretty conceptual," and no final decision had been made nor had any property owners been approached.

Site choices with advantages and disadvantages listed in the report include:

-- Centerway and Main Street, currently home to Schlueter Company, a house containing apartments and two small businesses.

Advantages: Easy access to highways 51 and 26, close to the heart of downtown, riverfront access.

Disadvantages: Current light industry would have to be relocated, meaning major relocation costs.

-- Court and Main streets, currently home to Rock County Appliance.

Advantages: Landmark historic structure, high visibility for the museum, close to the arts and cultural area.

Disadvantages: Building size smaller than the proposed museum, lack of available parking.

-- Between the Hedberg Public Library and St. Lawrence Avenue, currently home to Bee Line Alignment, green space, and two other buildings at 208/210 S. Water St. and 212 S. Water St.

Advantages: Riverfront location, part of the cultural arts corridor, part of the site already vacant.

Disadvantages: History of industrial use and floodplain issues.

-- Court and River streets, currently home to American Farm Implement & Specialty and enginaire, Mercy Options and O.C. Accounting.

Advantages: Part of lower downtown loop, close to the YMCA and the Boys & Girls Club, historic building—former location of the Samson Tractor plant.

Disadvantages: Not directly adjacent to either primary downtown commercial areas, one-way street complicates access.

Even with the recent downturn in the local economy, Ochs and his team believe now is the time to move forward.

"The vibrancy of the downtown is an indicator of community strength," Ochs said.

Companies interested in relocating to Janesville are interested in quality of life for their executives and workers, he said.

"If you create these positive activities downtown, it can be a catalyst for others," Ochs said.

Last updated: 10:01 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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