On Tuesday, the Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors approved a $45 million county contribution to help fund the new Milwaukee Public Museum building, a significant component of the $240 million project.
Priscilla E. Coggs-Jones, Russell Goodwin Sr., Sylvia Ortiz-Velez, and Sequanna Taylor voted no on the money, which passed 14-4. Coggs-Jones and Ortiz-Velez first voted in favor before switching their votes.
The board’s Finance and Parks, Energy, and Environment committees recommended that the funding be granted after a lengthy discussion last week. County Executive David Crowley will sign the law. As a result of the approval, the museum’s $150 million private fundraising campaign is sure to grow. It has gotten $40 million from the state and is seeking $5 million from the federal government.
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Collections preservation in the future
The funds are available “will contribute to the long-term preservation of the museum’s collections. This institution will continue to teach, influence, and thrill our community for years to come. “In a statement, Milwaukee Public Museum President and Chief Executive Officer Ellen Censky thanked the County Board for its support in the $45 million loan.
She believes that the funds from the county and state will ensure public-private collaboration for the new museum.
“By doing so in a new, world-class building,” she continued in the release, “the next phase of the museum will expand on our heritage of presenting ideas and information to our guests in creative ways.”
The museum will acquire a new name.
The Wisconsin Museum of Nature and Culture will be renamed to recognize the state’s most-visited museum and fundraising efforts from across the state. It will be located immediately north of Fiserv Forum’s parking structure. The museum plans to start construction late next year and complete it in the spring of 2026.
The current facility has been located at 800 W. Wells St. since 1963, and the county owns a 480,000-square-foot edifice with roughly 150,000 square feet of the display area.
The current structure is excessively massive, inefficient, and needs preventative maintenance for $70 million. The museum estimates that the renovation will cost $250 million.
After paying interest on the $45 million borrowed, the county would spend roughly $55 million on the new building. According to the county comptroller’s office, annual debt payments will rise to $3.7 million.
The museum’s operations are currently supported by a $3.5 million annual contribution from the county. The museum is a non-profit that houses collections that belong to the county.
Additional annual expenses
The county’s $45 million payment will be lowered to $1 million per year after the new museum opens. However, according to Comptroller Scott Manske, the county has an additional $1.5 million annual expense for the government-owned facility where the museum is currently housed.
The new museum will also house the Betty Brinn Children’s Museum, which has been located at 929 E. Wisconsin Ave. in O’Donnell Park since 1995.
According to Supervisor Jason Haas, the special hearing on museum funding was convened Tuesday rather than waiting for the usual County Board meeting on March 24, who chairs the Finance Committee. The delay is to give the museum time to prepare an accreditation report for the American Alliance of Museums, which is due in mid-April.
According to Censky, the report must show progress toward obtaining a new facility. The museum’s reaccreditation decision was postponed a year ago due to major concerns about the county’s structure. According to the museum, if the museum loses accreditation, it will be judged unsustainable.
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