Officials on Tuesday morning announced that the old Sears building on 22nd Avenue in Meridian will be site of the Mississippi Children’s Museum-Meridian.
Museum officials unveiled the design renderings from Mississippi-based architectural firm Weir Boerner Allin at a news conference at the Mississippi State University Riley Center.
“Oh happy days in Meridian!” said Meridian Mayor Percy Bland, echoing the words of the youth choir that performed prior to the ceremony.
The old Sears location at 403 22nd Avenue, across from the Meridian Police station, stands in the 22nd Avenue corridor, which Bland called “the gateway to our city.”
Mississippi Children’s Museum-Meridian and the Mississippi Arts and Entertainment Experience — set to open in April 2018 — will bring a 21-century interactive museum experience to the area, breathing new life into the corridor.
With a target amount of $13.5 million, MCM-M has raised about $10 million for the project. That amount includes a recent pledge of $4 million from the Riley Foundation, added to an earlier pledge of the Phil Hardin Foundation of $3 million to help fund the facility.
In a statement, Phil Hardin Foundation Executive Director Lloyd Gray said the investment is in line with the foundation’s “educational mission and purpose.”
“The Phil Hardin Foundation recognized early-on that this project will have a tremendously positive impact for children across the socioeconomic spectrum in our community and region," Gray said. "We need to do all we can to stimulate and enhance learning for all children, but especially for those who otherwise wouldn’t have access to the type of enrichment experiences the Children’s Museum will provide.”
"Today, the Riley Foundation is making a four-million-dollar grant, to the Mississippi Children’s Museum, that will improve the quality of life for our children, and grandchildren, for many generations to come,” Riley Foundation President and Treasurer Marty Davidson said in a statement.
MCM President and CEO Susan Garrard and Robert Ward, board chairman, of The Phil Hardin Foundation, also were among those making the announcement on Tuesday.
Three community volunteers, Elizabeth "Liz" Wilson, Kimberly Denison and Kim Bowers have been credited with envisioning the Meridian children's museum. Wilson was hired in September as a full-time project coordinator. Bowers remains as a volunteer and Denison has stepped back from the project to return to school, according to a museum spokeswoman. In 2016, they announced the Meridian museum would become a satellite of the Mississippi Children's Museum in Jackson.
Earlier plans called for a 20,000-square-foot facility at Bonita Lakes Park, which was approved as a site but met some community opposition. While opponents liked the museum idea, some expressed concerns about possible encroachment on green space and recreation at the park.
The Meridian City Council unanimously authorized a Memorandum of Understanding for a six-acre site on 16th Section land at Bonita Lakes and the Lauderdale County School board approved the assignment of land to MCM-Meridian in October, 2016.
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At that time, the museum anticipated a 2020 opening for a facility projected to cost $12 million.
Now, the museum hopes to break ground on the 20,000-square-foot facility some time in 2020. Meanwhile, a capital campaign for the children's museum project is under way, said Mary Alex Thigpen, director of marketing for MCM.
The time table for groundbreaking and completion is predicated on meeting the goal through the capital campaign, Thigpen said.
More information regarding the MCM-M project can be found at mschildrensmuseum.org/meridian.