Museum leaders then hit multiple roadblocks and detours over the next decade.
Those involved in the process think the journey not only made reaching the destination more satisfying, but it also made the final product better.
"The bottom line: We took a
Calloway took over as museum director in 2002 and deserves a lot of credit for revamping the plans and keeping the project alive through the Great Recession.
However, so many others played a role that the "thank yous" at the grand opening on Saturday could last all day.
The genesis of an idea
One of the early plans, according to
"As it turned out, the only part of the cultural complex to be built was the parking garage," Sennema noted wryly.
"What kind of got the whole thing going was when we got a call around 1994 from the
Ganong didn't have an easy way to set up the planetarium in the old mill building, and he didn't want to take on the full planetarium staff. "Ultimately we agreed to hire one staffer and say whatever planetarium we built was a successor to the
The equipment donation led to two years of massaging a plan for a planetarium. As more people with more ideas got involved, the plan expanded to include an
The big public reveal of the OPT -- for observatory, planetarium, theater -- project came in 1998, and fund-raising immediately proved to be a challenge. The goal was
When Calloway took over from the retiring Ganong as director four years after that announcement, the museum had raised
Two steps forward, one step back
Calloway came to
Some questioned the selection of someone with no experience in a traditional cultural history museum, but Calloway had loads of experience opening new projects, said
"He was not a traditional museum guy," Culbreath said, "but we knew we had a great staff that could help him with that."
Unfortunately for Calloway, he arrived just as the state hit major budget problems. Within six months, he had to lay off 15 museum employees. "We were working on the renovation at the same time we were in crisis mode in just the operation of the museum," Calloway said.
Calloway kept touting the project, saying at a 2002 publicity event that it would open in 2005.
"The educational potential of these facilities is, if I may use the term, astronomical," Townes said.
But at the same time, Calloway recognized fund-raising wasn't going well, and he pushed the museum board for a reconsideration of the plan. "My gut sense was there wasn't a complete confidence buy-in on the project's scope," Calloway said. "It just seemed too big."
He also had problems with the design of the project. The
Calloway also had concerns about the future of the IMAX brand, which began as large format films for museums but was morphing into an outlet for
Calloway, Ganong and several museum officials took a tour of top planetariums and observatories in the country and used the knowledge gathered to tweak
The inside-the-walls goal was more difficult to solve because the museum shared the building with the
"When you walk into the front door, I want it to say, this is the
DOR offered to give up space on the first floor but wanted to stay in the building. More recently, the agency left the building completely and consolidated its local staff in a refurbished outlet mall on
Fitting a 50-foot-tall planetarium inside the historic building would have required knocking out big chunks of floors and walls, so the museum stuck with the idea of tacking a new 25,000-square foot addition onto the east end of the building.
"It all started coming together 2005 or 2006, between design and what was feasible from a funding standpoint," Calloway said.
Funding finally comes through
Even with a more modest
"We were kind of stuck in the this cat-chasing-tail thing, where the private funders would say, 'Has the state stepped up? What are they going to do?'" Calloway said. "Then the state would say, 'Where's the private support? We'll play once the private support is there.' So we were sort of balancing the two."
Calloway thinks one of the turning points was when the museum's fund-raising foundation hired
Then the local governments came through with pledges --
"If you believe in the project, you really just have to talk about the project and not ask for the money," said Calloway, who did his share of the fundraising chores. "We had something that was very solid. So it really was a matter of telling the story of what we're doing."
The final breakdown of the 16-year fundraising effort: 50 percent from state government, 14 percent from local government, 14 percent from private individuals, 9 percent from
Long wait not ideal but might have helped
The museum will be "the only one in the country with the right mix" of an observatory where children can peer into space, a planetarium that allows them to take journeys into that vast realm and a 4D theater with entertainment that drives home the lessons, he said.
Bolden credited the project's many local backers for their persistence. "There are some hard-charging folks here who never say never," Bolden said.
The delays worked out for the best. "Thanks be to God that we didn't have the money to do it (earlier), because the
Calloway agrees, but he also wishes the museum hadn't been forced to wait 26 years after its opening for its first major additions.
"The first time I walked through (the museum) I said, it's a great facility and it's got a great potential, but it's already dated," Calloway recalled. "And that was in 2002, and it had only been open 14 years. Things were changing so drastically -- this whole convergence of technology and visual stimulation."
Just a few miles away,
"Periodic infusions of capital money have been the centerpiece of the zoo's success over the past 40 years," Riverbanks CEO
Expanding museums is more difficult and expensive, Krantz said, so many of them focus on bringing in new temporary exhibits.
With Windows to New Worlds, Calloway expects attendance to jump by 75,000 in the first year, increasing revenue by
"That's one reason I picked theaters," Calloway said. "You can change content to stay current without spending a lot of money.
"And knowing that it has taken 26 years or however long to get money, I thought it was more prudent for us to build (a) theater, where we can change content, rather than building a hard exhibit that might have a shelf life of eight years or 10 years."
Those who have followed the effort for decades are impressed.
"It certainly moves the museum into a new realm," Ganong said. "The additions make it a major science museum. It already was a major cultural history museum with a science component.
"And by creating something new, it will make the museum seem fresh again. ... It fulfills the original vision we had, and it creates a cultural icon in the state."
Even as Windows to New Worlds opens this week, Calloway can't help but think ahead to updating the other 150,000 square feet of exhibits.
"We still have a lot of the museum that we haven't touched," Calloway said. "The next thing on the horizon will be, 'Can we go into the existing galleries and renovate and update and do what we need to do?'
"We can retain our past -- we want to embrace natural history and cultural history -- but we do want to do this (expansion) as well. It's not an either-or, it's a both-and."
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