The group behind the Santa Barbara Children’s Museum received its final approvals from the City Council on Tuesday afternoon, clearing the way for construction on the property near the Railroad Depot.
Design approvals came through years ago, but everything was delayed by the dissolution of the Redevelopment Agency, which owned the land. The city got approval to transfer the land from the former RDA to the city — a technicality necessary for the Department of Finance — and is leasing it to the museum for free.
The three-story, nearly 17,000-square-foot building slated for 125 State St. was designed by the late architect Barry Berkus and will include interactive exhibits, a classroom lab, a rooftop sky garden and interactive theater.
Construction can start as soon as the nonprofit organization finishes fundraising and pulls building permits.
Sergio Villa, treasurer for the Children’s Museum, said the museum will focus on science, technology, engineering, arts and math education and was designed with input from local agencies who work with children. The museum will be a valuable resource for teachers, particularly for science classes, he said.
Scott Hadley, another board member, said the campaign has $5 million in pledges from board members alone toward the $21 million goal. They are working on some seven-figure pledges, which were waiting on the lease approval, and hope to have more than $10 million by October.
At that point, the community campaign will start and the fundraising efforts will become a lot more public, he added. They hope to break ground next year, and the lease with the city requires construction to finish in three years.
Other board members noted that this museum will provide different exhibits than the other ones in town — the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History and the Santa Barbara Maritime Museum, for example.
Board member Andrew Firestone said the museum will be unique since it will be forward-looking and encourage children to think for themselves.
“We have $5 million from the board alone and the $10 million number will complete the building, so put your concerns at ease that this building will go forward and be well-funded,” he said.
Beth Collins-Burgard from the law firm Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck has been representing this project pro bono for three years and applauded the city for getting the property transfer approved so quickly, relatively, by the Department of Finance.
Santa Barbara is one of the first, if not the first in the state, to get a portion of its Long Range Management Plan approved so the lease could move forward, she said.
“I have 7-year-old twins at Monroe Elementary School," Collins-Burgard said, "and I just can’t wait to be there with them on opening day.”