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Kidzu aims toward expansion

Museum needs $6 million for new site

Kidzu Children's Museum will be expanded from 2,700 square feet to about 15,000 square feet. DTH File Photo.
Kidzu Children's Museum will be expanded from 2,700 square feet to about 15,000 square feet. DTH File Photo.

Now that the town approved Kidzu Children’s Museum’s expansion, it’s up to the museum to raise money for construction.

The museum scored a $1 lease for 99 years, and now will have to raise $6 million to $7 million for construction of the new building, said Cathy Maris executive director of Kidzu.

“It really takes an entire community to create a great children’s museum,” Maris said. “We welcome people’s input and are going to need as much help as we can get.”

After about a year of negotiations, Kidzu contracted to relocate to Wallace Parking Deck — a property valued at $4 million.

The move could lead to downtown revitalization, town leaders say.

“We’re incredibly excited,” Maris said. “This is something that we’ve been working on for years and years.”

Chapel Hill Town Council unanimously voted on the details of the lease Nov. 9.

“(Maris) made a repeated set of very compelling arguments for the contract,” council member Ed Harrison said. “I agree with her completely.”

Fundraising for expansion

Maris said community support has helped the museum prosper. They’ve already raised $1 million to preserve the current site, Maris said.

“It’s going to be a broad net that we will have to cast,” Maris said.

The next steps in Kidzu’s expansion plan include continued fundraising, developing building plans, finding an architect, marketing and planning exhibits, said Jonathan Mills, the museum board chairman.

One fundraising event consisted of a series of parties called “A Feast for the Imagination,” Mills said. The events ranged from tailgating to ice skating to poker parties. By Mills’ estimates, the event raised $28,000 to $30,000.

Kidzu also took part in America’s giving challenge on Facebook. More than 160 members raised $6,252.

Out of the 7,857 organizations collecting money, Kidzu ranked 45th.

Maris said a lot of work is ahead but she is confident the museum will succeed with town support.

Revitalizing downtown

One of Maris’ arguments in favor of the lease was that the expansion will help revitalize downtown.

The number of museum visitors is expected to reach between 75,000 and 100,000 annually compared to the current 30,000, said Mills.

The larger space will allow the museum to hold more events at once, increasing attendance, Maris said.

The average ticket price is $5, Mills said, so the new museum could bring in $500,000 each year.

He said having more families downtown will create a better image for Chapel Hill.

“When you see kids holding hands, maybe they are pulling a kite behind them they made out of construction paper at Kidzu. They make you smile,” Mills said. “It’s the best advertisement downtown Chapel Hill could have.”

Mayor-elect Mark Kleinschmidt said the museum will inject more business into downtown.

“It’s been since Kidzu opened that the town has been hoping to help them find more space and increase their impact,” he said. “It’s a great destination for families, and it’s an opportunity for kids to grow and learn.”

Kidzu opened in 2006, occupying a 2,700-square-foot space on Franklin Street. At that location, there is only room for one exhibit, Maris said, but the new space will allow for five or six.

“We always knew we would start small and plan big,” Maris said.

The expanded museum, opening in 2013 or 2014, will be about 15,000 square feet with 5,000 square feet of outdoor exhibit space.



Contact the City Editor at citydesk@unc.edu.

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