Children’s Museum Plan Picked for Downtown Site ... What Comes Next?

Tom Giffey, photos by Andrea Paulseth |

The Children’s Museum of Eau Claire has taken the first step toward building a newer, bigger home for juvenile joy on North Barstow Street in Eau Claire. On Thursday, the city’s Redevelopment Authority voted to pursue a memorandum of understanding with the Children’s Museum and its partner, Monarch Ventures, to build on the so-called “liner site,” a now-empty city-owned parcel between North Barstow and the new(ish) downtown parking ramp.

The museum, its partner, and the RDA will begin negotiations to finalize the deal, which could take up to 90 days, said Aaron White, the city’s economic development manager. Once the memorandum of understanding is completed, a developer agreement will be reached, and construction will follow. While there’s no definite timeline yet, White said construction wouldn’t begin until spring 2020 at the earlier.

The “liner site,” where the downtown post office stood until a few years ago, covers about six-tenths of an acre and is bordered by the parking ramp, North Barstow Street, Galloway Street, and Riverfront Terrace. The RDA chose the plan from the Children’s Museum and Monarch over one from Merge Urban Development Group of Cedar Falls, Iowa.

The Children’s Museum proposal includes a two-story, 23,500-square-foot museum next to a 27,000-square-foot building that would house a first-floor restaurant and two stories of commercial space. The 9,000-square-foot eatery, which would be owned by Hudson restaurateur Andrew Kron, would include covered and outdoor patios for diners. (Officials are mum about the details of the restaurant.)

The "liner site" is the grassy area between North Barstow and the new(ish) downtown parking ramp.

The new children’s museum would be larger than the current 15,400-square-foot facility at 220 S. Barstow St. and would include larger exhibit space, a food and beverage option, and 5,000 square feet of green space as well as facilities for the Family Resource Center of Eau Claire and a 4-year-old kindergarten in partnership with the Eau Claire school district.

“We will be able to have parking for visitors, we will be able to have the front entrance set back a little from the street, and we will be able to make the facility more accessible and safe,” museum executive director Mike McHorney told WEAU 13 News.

Last year, a new Children’s Museum was part of a proposal to redevelop the adjacent Block 7. The RDA selected that plan – which came from Eau Claire-based Pablo Properties – after a request for proposals from developers. However, Pablo Properties decided earlier this year that the project – which also included an office building, a public plaza, and a “container park” on the liner site – wasn’t financially viable. This sent the RDA, and the Children’s Museum, back to square one.

Now that the RDA has selected a partner for redeveloping the liner site, it will soon chose one for Block 7 as well. It will pick between proposals from Eau Claire’s Commonweal Development and Madison-based Movin’ Out Inc., both of which call for apartment complexes with the possibility of commercial space as well. The RDA’s decision on Block 7 could come as early as Wednesday, Oct. 16.