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Museum backers hope for 'castle' location

10-10 senior center sj.jpg
Senior Center Rochester.

After three years operating in a shopping center, Rochester's children's museum wants to move up to the city's downtown "castle."

The Minnesota Children's Museum of Rochester recently announced its intentions to ask the city for use of the Rochester Senior Center at 121 N Broadway. Construction of a new senior center has begun, and the seniors are expected to move out of the historic castle-style armory building in 2016.

"It would be a great fit for the downtown. We're very family-oriented, which we don't have a lot of downtown," said Museum Director Dawn Devine.

The nonprofit museum opened in 2012 at 1643 N Broadway in the River Center Plaza, between Glynner's Pub and Little Caesar's Pizza. The original intention was the River Center location would be temporary and eventually the museum would find a permanent home.

Since it opened, more than 90,000 visitors have toured through the museum, Devine said. However, the small space has required the museum to rent almost all of its exhibits. That's a costly option, with typical exhibits costing about $40,000. Also, the museum has to shut down for a week to install a rented exhibit.

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The children's museum surveyed more than 480 visitors in March about their feelings about the current facility; 88 percent said it was too small, and 85 percent said they would visit a bigger museum more often.

Devine says museum organizers believe the Senior Center building is the best option for its future. They unveiled a campaign called "Road to the Castle" during the museum's third anniversary celebration last weekend. They have a banner that visitors are signing, and the museum is encouraging people to write letters of support to their city council representatives.

With 27,000 square feet of space on three levels, the old armory building is about five times the size of the current children's museum. The top floor is a big, open space, with high ceilings, which could accommodate permanent exhibits. Devine said the museum would like to keep the basement level set up as a cafeteria, as the seniors use it now.

The plan is to make a formal proposal to the Rochester City Council sometime this summer. Museum officials would like to have the same sort of "gifted" agreement the city has with the seniors. However, Devine says the museum is willing to make a financial contribution to make the site sustainable.

"The Castle costs about $160,000 annually toward upkeep, maintenance and utilities. We would pledge to cover that with the money we're now spending on a retail lease," she said, adding the museum would like to move in by the fall of 2016.

Devine points out the location would put the museum near Mayo Clinic's new proton beam cancer treatment center, which will treat children as well as adults. That proximity would allow the museum to "deepen" its relationship with Mayo Clinic, she said.

While they are not the only organization interested in the "Castle" when the seniors vacate it, the museum team believes it has a good case, she said.

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