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Tuesday, February 19 , 2019, 10:19 pm | Fair 41º


Santa Barbara Council Weighs a Play for Children’s Museum

Declaring the proposed project a "community priority" will help establish a long-sought site plan

Looking at what could be Santa Barbara’s largest children’s museum, the Santa Barbara City Council will be discussing whether the project can be classified as a “community priority” during Tuesday afternoon’s council meeting.

The proposed Children’s Museum of Santa Barbara, which would reach out to children ages 2-10, has been a work in progress for years and museum proponents and city employees have been searching for a possible location since the early 1990s. Attempts to put the museum on a West Anapamu Street lot were abandoned after studies concluded the property was too small to accommodate the 14,000-square-foot building.

In 2007, the City Council directed the Redevelopment Agency to negotiate exclusively with the Children’s Museum on the property at 125 State St., which is owned by the RDA and is adjacent to the Amtrak station, 209 State St. The site has been considered for other projects, including a surface parking lot and a visitor’s information center. The project must be designated as a community priority to qualify for the half-acre location.

A project meets “community priority” and advances the public’s benefit if it’s determined “necessary to meet present or projected needs directly related to public health, safety or general welfare.” Santa Barbara’s municipal code gets more specific and defines “general welfare” as a “community priority project which has broad public benefit (for example: museums, child-care facilities, or community centers) and which is not principally operated for private profit.”

Paul Selwyn, who acts as the board president for the CMSB, said he felt the project should be considered a community priority, because it would encourage young children to learn about the world around them.

Selwyn was instrumental in starting the Children’s Museum of Los Angeles in 1979, and served as its board president for several years. That museum is facing the possibility of bankruptcy, for a myriad of reasons, including its remote location near the Hansen Dam in the San Fernando Valley, fundraising woes related to one of its primary benefactors, and turnover of the museum’s board and staff.

“When I moved to Santa Barbara, I discovered there wasn’t a children’s museum, and it disturbed me,” he said. “I don’t think people really understand the value of these museums.”

Selwyn acknowledged a smaller children’s museum that existed in the La Cumbre Plaza in the 1990s, but said that this new museum would be a much larger undertaking.

Calling the Lower State Street site “fabulous,” Selwyn said the location is advantageous to both the museum and the city, and having the train station next door will serve to draw others from outside the area.

“We’ll be serving more than just the locals,” he said.

In fact, a 2002 feasibility study estimates an attendance of 90,000 in the museum’s first year, with 72,000 attending annually afterward.

Granting the project as a “community priority” would not signal project approval, however.

The council will also be discussing a memorandum of understanding between the Redevelopment Agency and the museum, which would outline the project description and set in motion environmental review.

The MOU outlines the concept of the building, which would be two stories and contain more than 8,800 square feet of indoor and outdoor exhibits, many of which would be interactive, Selwyn said, encouraging a kind of “stealth learning ... because it’s not just a play area, it’s an educational area.”

Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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