Janesville36.6°

Council throws support to children's museum

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MARCIA A. NELESEN
August 13, 2008
— A children’s museum is a need, not a want, most city council members at a study session said on Tuesday.

With that, they promised $5 million for a downtown site and building on the condition that Janesville Museum Inc., a private community group, raises $3 million for exhibits and an endowment.


“I think the funding part of it is (a) concern,” Councilwoman Kathy Voskuil said.


But she urged residents to remember that the project would be accomplished via a public-private partnership.


City Manager Steve Sheiffer said the council could add the project to the capital project schedule without an increase in debt service. He said he might be able to get $1 million from downtown TIFs.


The museum could open as early as 2012.


Sheiffer said a museum is a catalyst for development, including residential development because it increases quality of life.


Councilman Tom McDonald initially brought up the “need versus want” scenario.


McDonald said a children’s museum is a fantastic idea and would bring people to Janesville.


But he said it was a “want,” while the $32 million the council approved to improve the wastewater treatment plant earlier in the evening was a “need.”


Funding would be a problem, he predicted.


“Five million for something we want but that we don’t need—I think this is going to be a hard pill to swallow for a lot of people.”


McDonald proposed putting it to a referendum.


But other council members said they changed their minds about a children’s museum after visiting one in Normal, Ill.


It would be difficult to share that kind of experience with residents, Councilwoman Amy Loasching said.


“We are the ones who know what our vision is,” she said. “We’ve been elected by the residents to … create a vision and see it through. … But I think we put it to a referendum, and it dies.


“I do see this as a need,” Loasching said. A museum gives young families something to do and helps downtown development.


The council is elected to sift through studies and fiscal statements and then make decisions, Councilman Russ Steeber said.


Steeber compared the children’s museum effort to the performing arts center, which was not just a city project but a community project.


“The way I always look at it, we’re growing the community,” he said. “That’s what it’s all about—investing in the future.


“We’re always going to have times that are trying,” Steeber added.


“We can’t predict floods, storms, economic downturns … The one thing that I think we have to do is position ourselves in the best possible light.”


Councilman Yuri Rashkin defined the museum as a “distinct need.”


“Any project that has this much backing from the private sector, to me, deserves a very serious look from the city council.”


Ron Ochs, president of the museum steering committee, was excited and ready to get to work after the meeting.


“We’re going to raise those dollars as quickly as we can,” Ochs said.


“It’s going to be a great project.”


BY THE NUMBERS

According to information provided from a consultant, a children’s museum would:


-- Attract at least 51,670 visitors a year.


-- Target 4 to 11 year olds. But Councilwoman Kathy Voskuil urged the committee to consider including older children with innovative activities.


-- Be a 25,000-square-foot facility located downtown with room to expand. The space would include 16,000 square feet for exhibits and 900 for a gift shop.


-- Be run by a private, nonprofit organization.


-- Cost $6 a person. Revenue would be $409,000 a year with an operations shortfall of $238,000. That would be covered with up to $125,000 in city money, with the remainder coming from fund-raising and the endowment.


-- Have an annual budget of $648,000 and support seven full-time staff.



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