Champaign-Urbana has long enjoyed a well-earned reputation for innovation. Now it is going to be the home of a new children’s museum that aims to foster innovation and creativity in the community’s kids.
Spark Museum + Play Cafe is expected to open in mid-May at Lincoln Square Mall in Urbana, taking the space most recently occupied by Flyght Bar and Lounge.
A remodeling of the space will transform it into an 8,000-square foot playspace and cafe where children and adults can interact, learn, relax, eat and enjoy an atmosphere that aims to “foster and celebrate the innovator within, with the understanding that all children can make a difference,” according to its mission statement.
“It’s about educating and opening up the future for children,” said co-founder and executive director Sonya Darter, who has more than 15 years of experience in the museum field.
Spark’s target is newborns to age 8, with planned spaces and exhibits aimed at nurturing creativity and innovation. Dedicated space includes areas designated for infants, two treehouses, a “pizza factory” station, “Way Things Work Factory,” a “Wiggle Factory,” and a “Create and Build Factory,” among others.
The general design from the space’s previous tenants will remain largely the same, though the interior will be brightened significantly by painting with bright colors. Adults will be able to see their kids from many different areas of the facility.
Darter and her co-founder, associate director Megan Gillette, have spent nearly two years on the project. Gillette has more than 14 years of experience in event management and design for technology education and trade show industries.
“People will see a new face to the mall,” Gillette said.
They hope to collaborate with C-U’s college and university minds to “bring in new ideas and keep the technology fresh,” Gillette said.
There will be plenty for adults, too.
The Cafe will feature organic foods and a variety of drinks, including beer, wine and cocktails (in evening hours). Food choices include soups and salads; smoothies, yogurt, fruit and cheese plates; pastries, muffins and oatmeal; healthy snacks; ice cream parlor; flatbreads and pizza; paninis and wraps. Beverages will also include coffee, latte, cold and hot tea, bottled water, soda, milk (and alternatives).
No outside food will be allowed with the exception of baby formula.
There are televisions in the facility, but they are not expected to be turned on most of the time, Darter said. There will be exceptions for certain events, such as Illini sports.
Admission is expected to be $5 for kids and adults. Spark will be open Wednesday-Sunday. Birthday parties, private parties and corporate events are available.
An adult must be accompanied by a child and vice versa. There is no drop-off provision. Parking is free.
Spark Museum + Play Cafe will be a 501(c)-3 non-profit. The Community Foundation of East Central Illinois is the fund manager. Sponsorships are available.