Museum gains support

OLYMPIA - A new, $13 million Hands On Children's Museum will transform downtown, museum executive director Patty Belmonte said, and she wants to know what patrons would like to see in it.

"I think this could be the catalyst of turning our downtown around," she said.

Six months after the Olympia City Council voted to put the museum on East Bay, the museum's staff is quietly raising money and putting the details together. Among them:

The museum has chosen the Miller/Hill Partnership of Seattle to design the building, which is set to be 25,000 square feet with an additional 10,000 square feet of outdoor exhibit space.

Museum staff members are traveling to other children's museums, looking to see what to include in Olympia's.

The museum is in the "quiet phase" of fundraising, meeting with big donors and corporations. Once half of the $6 million campaign is in hand, museum representatives will start asking smaller donors for money.

Museum officials want to know what patrons think. The museum will have a comment booth at Sand in the City, a sand-sculpture event to be held Aug. 24-26 downtown. People also can contact the museum, Belmonte said.

She has an idea of her own: Turn the museum into an environmental-education center. Its setting at the foot of East Bay and next to a proposed LOTT education center will be ideal, she said.

"We think the timing is perfect for this," she said, because sea-level rise and environmental contamination are two big factors with East Bay.

The city of Olympia is building the museum on Port of Olympia property near State and Jefferson streets, next to its proposed site for City Hall. It will have more than twice as much space as the museum's cramped facility, which it rents from the state, at 11th Avenue and Capitol Way.

To pay for it, the city will spend $7 million in public facility district revenue and $1 million from the city's lodging tax. The remainder will come from the museum's fundraising.

Belmonte hopes the museum is built by 2010, but there is no construction schedule. However, the financing district requires Olympia to issue permits for the building by the end of 2009 and start construction by the end of 2010.

Assistant City Manager Subir Mukerjee said city officials haven't decided whether to lease the land or buy it from the port. Ed Galligan, the port's executive director, has said the port is working on a comprehensive environmental plan for the greater East Bay area that he hopes to release within weeks.

Belmonte said the museum's plans won't be affected by plans for the City Hall, which have been on hold since its developer pulled out two months ago.

Mukerjee agreed.

"It's an exciting project," he said of the museum. "It will be a huge point of attraction for the East Bay development."