A nearly 100-year-old brewery sits undisturbed in the Lincoln Park neighborhood of Duluth, Minn., storing nothing more than heaps of old wood and assorted junk. But soon, this boarded-up building will become a sprawling community destination for families and the newest part of Clyde Park.
The Duluth Children’s Museum is in the process of transforming the brewery into a state-of-the-art facility that will replace its cramped location in the Duluth Depot.
“The Depot is owned by the county and has been a wonderful home for 35 years,” said Michael Garcia, president and CEO of the museum. “However, we have a very small amount of space in the Depot.”
The Duluth Children’s Museum prides itself on being an atypical museum. Kids are encouraged to play with exhibits, not look at them behind glass.
On a busy day, toddlers to preteens crowd the museum. Some set up a campsite while others make their own pinwheels. A boy explores animal sounds while a girl looks at butterflies under a large microscope.
Angie Nolle is a mother of two and an occasional visitor of the museum. She said she enjoys the museum, but it could use some improvement.
“I’d like to see more variety in the exhibits,” she said. “It can get really crowded there sometimes too.”
A committee consisting of Garcia and four members of the Duluth Children’s Museum Board of Trustees spent years looking at buildings throughout Duluth, including the Duluth Armory, before settling on the Duluth Malt and Brewing building on Helm Street, behind the Duluth Heritage Sports Center.
“The first building we looked at was the one we bought,” Garcia said. “(At first), we thought, ‘Nah, this doesn’t work.’ We looked around the community for three years and that helped us clarify what we were trying to do.”
Membership at the museum has skyrocketed from 250 in 2004 to over 9,300 today, according to Garcia.
The current location occupies less than 7,000 square feet, which includes storage areas and offices. The new location will quadruple the museum in size to 28,000 square feet.
The brewery was built in 1915, according to the city assessor’s office. The building received a second life as a distribution warehouse, but has sat empty for the last 10 years. Alex Giuliani, the owner and developer of Clyde Iron Works, purchased the building and later sold it to the Duluth Children’s Museum.
The building is wide open with support beams to hold up the roof and second floor, which consists of a balcony around the perimeter of the interior. It also contains a fully functional grain elevator, which the museum hopes to integrate into its final plans.
Although no exhibit program plan has been finalized, Garcia said the museum has some ideas and plans to occupy the entire building, including the basement and roof.
“It might not look like it does today,” he said. “It might expand to be a hybrid between a children’s museum and a science center.”
Preliminary plans include a classroom theater, a learning kitchen, a bubble room, and a rooftop garden.
Ideally, the museum is hoping to begin construction next spring. Construction would take approximately eight months and the museum would need about six months for interior preparation, which puts the target opening in 2013.
So far, the museum has raised approximately $500,000 of the estimated $4,875,000 project cost. Garcia and the board of trustees are currently evaluating how much money they need to raise before beginning construction to avoid running out of funds before the project is complete.
Susie Fryberger, a mother of three who is active in fundraising efforts, said it hasn’t been easy.
“It’s a huge challenge,” she said. “The challenge is to get an initial major donor on board.”
Fryberger knows her children will quickly outgrow the museum, but is passionate for other reasons.
“I’m hoping for people to understand the museum isn’t just for families with young children,” she said. “I think it will be a huge asset to the community.”
When it opens, the museum will become a major addition to Clyde Park, which already includes a restaurant, concert hall, the Boys and Girls Club, and a hockey arena.
Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC) has conducted numerous studies concluding that the businesses in Clyde Park support each other by attracting customers from other parts of the city, region, and state. LISC estimated that the new children’s museum will have 81,000 visitors annually, giving an additional boost to other Clyde Park businesses.
Garcia said the museum will be moving into the perfect location because Lincoln Park has the highest population density of families with young children in Duluth.
“We need a business that attracts families with young children,” he said.
Sarah Sawinski, a mother of two who can see the new building from her home, shared these sentiments.
“I think it’s fantastic,” she said. “It’ll draw people here who wouldn’t be here otherwise.”