$12 million campaign aims to build a new larger children's museum and library

The Wonderscope Children’s Museum of Kansas City at 5700 King St. in Shawnee is wanting to improve the experience for children and they are working with other interest groups to start a $12 million campaign to build a new, larger children’s museum
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The Wonderscope Children’s Museum of Kansas City at 5700 King St. in Shawnee is wanting to improve the experience for children and they are working with other interest groups to start a $12 million campaign to build a new, larger children’s museum
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Development

Children’s museum and public library plan ‘statement’ building in south Kansas City

By Diane Stafford

stafford@kcstar.com

February 21, 2017 05:00 AM

Wonderscope Children’s Museum wants a Kansas City facility that rivals the best in the nation.

The Mid-Continent Public Library wants to update its busy Red Bridge branch.

Lane4 Property Group wants its Red Bridge Shopping Center, now under redevelopment, to draw people from beyond its south Kansas City neighborhood.

Bob Regnier wants to continue the children’s museum philanthropy begun by his father.

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The four parties are melding their interests, beginning with a $12 million campaign launched Tuesday by Wonderscope to build a new, larger children’s museum and library on property near Red Bridge and Holmes roads.

“We want a statement building,” said Roxane Hill, executive director of the nonprofit children’s museum, which has outgrown the former Flint Elementary School in Shawnee where it has operated since 1997.

Hill welcomed the Mid-Continent Public Library’s participation in a new combined museum and library. “We saw the synergy if the library and us would build together,” she said.

Wonderscope had 70,000 visitors last year. The Red Bridge branch had 180,000 patrons.

“We found each other,” said Mid-Continent library director and CEO Steve Potter. “Wonderscope focuses on play to learn. We focus on read to learn. The sum of our parts could be incredible. We started talking about a programming marriage, which then became a structural marriage.”

Brandon Buckley, vice president of Lane4, said the shopping center has land waiting for the museum and library.

The goal is for a groundbreaking in about 18 months — depending on the financing coming together — with the new, joint building to be ready for occupancy 18 months later.

“We’re aiming for 30,000 square feet, nearly double what we have now, which would give us space for something like the children’s museums in Omaha, St. Louis,” Hill said. “...Kansas City needs to up its game a little.”

Potter said the existing branch is “serviceable” but lacks visibility from the road and could use updating. Operating under a memorandum of understanding with Wonderscope, the library aims to pursue a 15,000- to 17,500-square-foot new facility rather than remodel its existing 12,500 square feet.

“If we could sell our existing building, and combine that with about $1 million in our current capital account for the branch, that would get close to what we’d need to build new,” Potter said.

A striking new building fronting Red Bridge Road would be an asset to the shopping center’s redevelopment, Buckley said.

“It’s one thing to have a grocery store that brings people in from a 3-mile radius, but what a benefit to the center and to south Kansas City to have a draw that brings people from 30 miles or more,” Buckley said.

Part of the fundraising for the project, led by Regnier, will go to exhibit updates and program expansion.

Regnier, president and CEO of the Bank of Blue Valley, said it was too expensive to improve the Shawnee school building — which his father, Vic Regnier, bought for the museum.

“So the museum looked all over. They researched their existing customers. They did a feasibility study, and they came up with Red Bridge,” Regnier said.

Ample parking, a location on city bus lines and easy access from the nearest interstates make the relocation a winner for the children’s museum, Regnier said.

The combined draw of the museum and library, planners said, should be a win for both places and for the shopping center.

Kansas City Councilman Scott Taylor said he and fellow council member Kevin McManus are encouraged by the 6th District project. Taylor particularly cited a possible 300-seat auditorium that would be available for community use.

The new facilities also would contribute another asset to the ongoing redevelopment in south Kansas City, which includes the new Cerner Innovations Campus and the expanded Burns & McDonnell headquarters, which have brought more workers to the area.

Diane Stafford: 816-234-4359, @kcstarstafford