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Kidzu Children's Museum close to deal for larger space

Negotiations for a building contract are finally coming together for a local children’s museum seeking a much bigger space.

Kidzu Children’s Museum representatives are working on a proposal with town staff to use the top of a parking deck on Rosemary Street. They said they hope the contract will be considered at the Chapel Hill Town Council’s Sept. 28 meeting.

Kidzu Children’s Museum representatives said they hope to build a 20,000-square-foot building on the top of Wallace Parking Deck, which is owned by the town of Chapel Hill. The top floor is an open community area not used for parking.

Kidzu is a museum that offers children an opportunity to learn through playing, said Jonathan Mills, chairman of the board of directors. The current Franklin Street location is about 2,700 square feet, which Mills said is not enough to accommodate its exhibits and visitors.

Mills said significant progress has been made in the last eight weeks but that initially there were hurdles.

“I think speed is an issue, getting everybody on the same page,” Mills said.

Kidzu representatives originally petitioned the Town Council the first week of September 2008, and progress was slow.

“The town staff has been incredibly busy,” Mills said. “But I think at the moment we are a priority.”

Mills said Kidzu has used the elapsed year to work with town staff, creating the contract they’ll propose in September.

“We’re just trying to come up with something that the Kidzu people and the town staff would offer and the council would consider,” said Town Attorney Ralph Karpinos. “It would be up to the council to decide whether to approve.”

If the town approves Kidzu’s proposal contract, the museum’s representatives will need to submit an application to the town planning department to undergo development review before they begin to build, which could take months, Karpinos said.

Mark Kleinschmidt, Chapel Hill town council member, said the council is excited about the possibilities the new location could bring.

“We’re wanting to do everything we can to help them out,” he said.

With the building site located in the center of downtown, Kleinschmidt said he’s hoping Kidzu’s new location and larger size could make downtown attractive to a different crowd.

“I’m hoping that they’d be able to develop a building up there that would be a real anchor for our downtown,” he said. “In the last decade or so, the 100 block has become almost solely devoted to the University.”

The new building will come with a hefty price tag, Mills said. If the town approves the contract, Kidzu will begin its formal capital campaign to raise the $5.5 million to $7 million needed for the building and its exhibits alone.

But Mills said he thinks the efforts will be worth it.

“Our goal is to be one of the leading educational innovators in the country,” Mills said.

“And that’s a big deal.”

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