Friday, July 14, 2000

Museum Center hoping to expand

Proposed deal would exchange buildings

By Owen Findsen
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        The Cincinnati Museum Center can stretch into world-class status — and have its own hall of dinosaurs — if a $6.5 million property swap is approved by City Council.

        The deal would mean the museum's landmark building at Gilbert Avenue and Elsinore Street would become a new Episcopal Diocese elementary school, while the museum would get a larger building on Gest Street for some offices, storage and laboratories.

        At the same time, the Museum Center would expand exhibits in Union Terminal.

        Museum officials said they hope to present a proposal for the complicated property swap to City Council by early August.

        “This is one of the biggest things that has happened for the Museum Center,” said Museum Center President and Chief Executive Officer Douglass McDonald. “It advances us considerably in our ability to care for our collections and provide research opportunities. And it lets us plan for future exhibits in the Museum Center's Union Terminal building.”

        Before the Episcopal Diocese could take over the Gilbert Avenue building for its school, it must purchase the National Underwriter building on Gest Street for about $6.5 million. Then the church would turn that over to the museum, which estimates it would have to raise another $1.5 million to complete expansion there.

        The Gilbert Avenue building — with its planetarium, castle-like exterior and woolly mammoths — was the Natural History Museum from 1957 until the Cincinnati Museum Center opened at Union Terminal in 1990. Since then, it has housed natural scientists, researchers and more than 2 million museum objects. The building lacks climate control needed to preserve museum objects.

        Union Terminal is “running out of space,” Mr. McDonald said. The building has 110,000 square feet for exhibitions, with 30,000 square feet (about the size of the Children's Museum) left for expansion. Historic objects, manuscripts, books and fine arts would be moved to Gest Street.

        “Getting our collections in a better space has been a top priority,” said Jane Mac- Knight, director of collections. “The new building will have state-of-the-art storage and laboratories, as well as classrooms for the area colleges that are affiliated with the Museum Center.”

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