The vision of developing a new Orpheum Children’s Science Museum in downtown Champaign took another step to fruition on Friday.
A mixed-use development proposed for Downtown Champaign — which would be built behind the current Orpheum Children’s Science Museum and The News-Gazette in a surface parking lot — includes a hotel, conference center, apartments, retail space, more parking, and commercial office space at a price tag of $95 million.
The children’s museum would require additional fundraising, but Bruce Knight, the City of Champaign’s Planning and Development Director, said local developer Hans Grotelueschen is confident the community could raise those funds.
“Hans wants to build something that is competitive to what Normal has,” Knight said Friday, referring to the Children’s Discovery Museum in downtown Normal.
The project will be discussed at the City Council study session on Tuesday. According to a report prepared by city staff for the City Council, “In addition to the primary concept, the developer has expressed an interest to enhance the project by incorporating a new Children’s Museum into the development. The developer has reached out to the Orpheum Children’s Science Museum Board and the News Gazette (owner of the proposed site) and there has been interest by both parties. This concept would allow the historic Orpheum Theater to possibly be incorporated into the project as part of the conference space.”
Mayor Deb Feinen expressed her excitement about the children’s museum aspect of the project and its potential to make Champaign-Urbana a more appealing travel destination for families – which means more tax revenues and money spent at local businesses – while at the same time benefitting local children.
“We do hear from the community that there is space for us to develop more children and family programming,” she said Friday, adding that such a facility might entice those who come visit for Illinois athletics and other events to extend their stay, much like they do for other cities where children’s museums are economic drivers. “It’s the draw that brings them in and they’ll stay.”
The non-profit museum has discussed a new building and/or expansion for many years. In 2009, the museum solicited proposals from developers. At the time, Bill Ackermann, vice president of the museum’s board told The News-Gazette: “We want to build a first-class children’s museum – that’s the bottom line.”
Later, the board decided it was going to stay in its current footprint but wanted to expand. In 2013, The News-Gazette reported that the board’s “long-term goal is to build and possibly connect a new building to the current historic Orpheum theater.”
The area of discussion is also primed for redevelopment on another corner, as Common Ground Food Co-Op plans to build its second location at the northeast corner of Walnut and Washington.
Public comment is welcome at Tuesday’s meeting in City Council chambers.