Development

Closed Until 2022: Children’s Museum Won’t Reopen Until New Building Is Finished

until then, it will operate as a ‘mobile museum’

Tom Giffey, photos by Andrea Paulseth |

WHERE'S THE FIRE? Pre-coronavirus fun at the Children's Museum of Eau Claire.
WHERE'S THE FIRE? Pre-coronavirus fun at the Children's Museum of Eau Claire.

The Children’s Museum of Eau Claire announced Tuesday that it will remain closed until 2022 when it reopens in a brand-new museum to be built in the 100 block of North Barstow Street.

The museum had attempted to reopen in July, but experienced a $37,300 loss that month and subsequently decided to close indefinitely because of the pandemic. Now, the museum’s board of directors has decided to stay closed until a new museum opens on the so-called Liner Site, next to the downtown parking ramp. Earlier this month, the Eau Claire Redevelopment Authority approved the museum’s purchase of the property, and in August the museum put its current home, 220 S. Barstow St., on the market.

“This decision (to remain closed) was not made lightly and took into consideration local, state, and national evidence and data to inform this monumental decision,” the museum said in a media release, which noted that 53% of the nation’s children’s museums are closed through at least Dec. 31.

“This decision (to remain closed) was not made lightly and took into consideration local, state, and national evidence and data to inform this monumental decision,” the museum said.

The Children’s Museum of Eau Claire said it calculated that if it reopened in its current space in January 2021, it could lose as much as $244,000 in the ensuing year, depleting the cash reserves. “This would greatly jeopardize the strong financial stability of the organization that has been achieved over the course of its 15-year existence,” the museum said.

Until 2020, the museum will operate on a mobile basis. “CMEC’s presence in the community will focus on the mobile museum inspiring play in rural and low to moderate income communities, serving a smaller membership through its popular Busy Box program, and launching the XOXO Project to promote positive change through social justice,” the media release said. “More details on these programs will be forthcoming in the weeks ahead as CMEC reimagines itself through the pandemic.”

Here’s the full announcement:

Children’s Museum of Eau Claire continues planning for future

-For Immediate Release-
Tuesday, September 22, 2020

EAU CLAIRE, WIS. – The Children’s Museum of Eau Claire board of directors made an important decision today as it relates to its future serving Northwestern Wisconsin. The Children’s Museum will reopen and serve the community beginning in 2022, after building a new museum on the Liner Site in downtown Eau Claire.

This decision was not made lightly and took into consideration local, state, and national evidence and data to inform this monumental decision. According to survey data from the Association of Children’s Museums, 53% of children’s museums across the country are closed through December 31, 2020 due to the pandemic. Of that figure, 9% attempted to reopen only to have to close due to operating losses or because of a surge in COVID-19 cases. It’s been estimated by the Association of Children’s Museums that the mobilization cost of reopening is $50,000, which won’t be recouped. Children’s Museum of Eau Claire is living proof of this figure. After reopening for the month of July, CMEC suffered devastating losses from operating which equaled $37,300. In addition, CMEC invested more than $10,000 in PPE, disinfecting equipment, and employee training.

CMEC determined three mutually exclusive metrics needed to be met to reopen in its current location:

A minimum of 6 months of cash reserves would be necessary.

Achieve 80% or greater corporate sponsorship support as compared to 2019 fiscal year.

CMEC could make evidence-based decision that operations return to pre-pandemic levels within one year.

Unfortunately, CMEC is projecting operating losses in the range of $119,000 to $244,000 if it were to reopen in January 2021. In also factoring another $50,000 in mobilization costs associated with reopening, CMEC is likely to deplete its cash reserves before the end of 2021. This would greatly jeopardize the strong financial stability of the organization that has been achieved over the course of its fifteen year existence.

“Bottom line, there will be a Children’s Museum in the future. For fifteen years, the Children’s Museum has been a significant and valuable asset to the community,” said Michael McHorney, Executive Director of the Children’s Museum. Children’s Museums are an important education and economic engine in the communities they serve. Locally, CMEC brings an estimated $1.14 million each year to the community through tourism spending. It’s presence has spurned increased tax base to the City of Eau Claire in the South Barstow Business District to the tune of $2.7 million since it’s inception in 2004. What’s greatest and relatively unknown, is the fact that CMEC serves thousands of children from low to moderate income households each year through its Play for All membership program. Since the launch of this program in 2015 and because of generous private philanthropy, CMEC has distributed $217,482 back to the community through subsidizing Play for All family memberships.

Until CMEC reopens in 2022, it will operate as a mobile museum. The Children’s Museums strong cash position allows this to happen and not go into further debt to operate during the pandemic. CMEC is also able to draw from experiences of other children’s museums that have encountered a gap while transitioning from one location to another. The mission of the Children’s Museum has been too critical to this community as part of downtown revitalization, educational attainment, and building stronger families. CMEC’s presence in the community will focus on the mobile museum inspiring play in rural and low to moderate income communities, serving a smaller membership through its popular Busy Box program, and launching the XOXO Project to promote positive change through social justice. More details on these programs will be forthcoming in the weeks ahead as CMEC reimagines itself through the pandemic.

“CMEC’s new approach in creating this future follows the mantra that looking longer will be stronger. We look forward to coming through this pandemic and celebrating with a new Children’s Museum experience that will serve the community for many, many years,” McHorney said.

For more information visit Children’s Museum of Eau Claire’s website, www.ChildrensMuseumEC.com.