Graham Kilmer

MPM Holds Groundbreaking for $240 Million Museum

Construction will begin soon on Public Museum's new five-story facility.

By - May 7th, 2024 05:45 pm

Museum officials and state and local officials pose with local students for ceremonial museum groundbreaking. Photo by Graham Kilmer.

The Milwaukee Public Museum (MPM) held a ceremonial groundbreaking Tuesday for its new $240 million museum.

The five-story, 200,000-square-foot museum will be built at the corner of N. 6th Street and W. McKinley Avenue. Crews have been clearing the 2.4-acre site and prepping it for construction for the past year. Actual construction is expected to begin in June and finish in time for a grand opening in early 2027.

Ellen Censky, MPM president and CEO, thanked all of the donors and public officials who have provided the funding to get the project to construction. She also said the museum is made possible “by so many other people in this community throughout the state and actually from across the globe, who have participated in surveys and focus groups, and interviews and in workshops, to make sure that our future museum represents and reflects the most up-to-date science, and the stories of our peoples.”

The new building will replace the aging museum at 800 W. Wells St., which was built in the 1960s and has massive maintenance needs that are endangering some of the museum collections. Water infiltration, failing plumbing and frequent breakdowns of mechanical systems are some of the problems staff contend with at the museum.

In 2021, with the building endangering the museum’s accreditation, MPM began pushing for a major public funding commitment for a new museum. First, the State of Wisconsin provided $40 million, then the county committed $45 million to the project. The funding was necessary to help leverage a private fundraising campaign, which has raised $80 million to date for a combined total of $165 million for the new facility. Museum officials were hoping to have at least $100 million in private donations raised before construction began. “So we’re nearly there,” Censky said.

We’ve got people lined up to break ground,” Censky said, “the community’s excited, we’ve got donors who are excited to get this moving, and other donors who want to see something moving.”

The new building — designed by architects from New York-based Ennead Architects and Milwaukee-based Kahler Slater — will be smaller than the Wells Street museum. Part of that is driven by a decision to store some of the 4 million items in the museum’s collections at an off-site storage facility. The museum was designed to resemble the state’s rolling bluffs, with a ground floor based on the convergence of the three rivers that create the Milwaukee estuary: Menomonee, Milwaukee and Kinnickinnic.

Some of the museum’s beloved exhibits will make the move, albeit with a refresh, while some others will not. Notably, the “Streets of Old Milwaukee” will not be recreated at the new museum. Instead, a new gallery called “Milwaukee Revealed” will serve as a replacement. It will be an immersive gallery experience designed to resemble various Milwaukee streetscapes, with exhibits based on the city’s commercial history and neighborhoods.

The popular Rainforest Exhibit will be moved to the new museum and retooled as the Rainforest gallery. A number of the museum’s pre-historic items and exhibits will be folded into a new gallery called “Time Travel” showcasing fossils from three geologic time periods, including dinosaur fossils like the museum’s Torosaur skeleton. Another gallery, called “Wisconsin Journey,” will be completely new and feature some of the state’s unique natural and cultural features.

The new museum is expected to see more than five million visitors during the first decade after it opens, said County Executive David Crowley, who noted that the project is about more than just the building. “[The museum] is for nearly every child, every elementary student in Milwaukee County and surrounding communities who will visit this museum over the next 100 years.”

Mayor Cavalier Johnson said the future museum will be an important piece of his administration’s plan to grow Milwaukee.

“We’re building a city that will attract more tourists, a city that will attract more jobs, more people, as well as more dreams,” Johnson said. “And the future museum, right here in the heart of downtown Milwaukee, is a major driver and will be a major driver in that.”

The ceremony Tuesday included performances by students from the Indian Community School, Hmong American Peace Academy, Bruce-Guadalupe Community School and Ko-Thi Dance Company.

Mark Denning, a member of the Oneida Nation and a Native American cultural educator, opened up the ceremony Tuesday with a blessing, and said the future museum will be “a place of learning and a place of natural history. It will be a place of healing. It will be a place to go where people can learn and have words that they have no words for: the feeling of a bird song, seeing a fish and understanding how it works.”


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Categories: MKE County

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