Crews have begun work on the much-anticipated Children's Museum of Santa Barbara, a block from the ocean on lower State Street.
Plans call for a 25,000-square-foot museum with interactive educational exhibits centered on science, technology, engineering, arts and math (STEAM), in what supporters call a "playground for the brain."
City officials plan a formal groundbreaking in the fall, but construction crews are prepping the site now to begin work.
"I'm very excited that this long-awaited family friendly museum is finally coming together," Santa Barbara Mayor Helene Schneider said. "It was important for the city to work with the Children's Museum in securing the property after the Redevelopment Agency dissolved. This will be a special destination for residents and visitors alike."
The city and the museum's nonprofit board of directors nearly lost the site at 125 State St. after the state seized cities' redevelopment agencies and public buildings funded by the RDA.
The city donated the RDA land to the museum, which has a 50-year ground lease for $1 a year. Museum directors and city officials worked hard to convince the state's Department of Finance to spare the museum from the chopping block, and gain an exemption from a state takeover.
Plans call for the museum to open in June 2016. Officials expect 110,000 people the first year, 100,000 the next and then about 95,000 people annually. Officials said museums typically get a big pop the first year before settling down to their normal attendance numbers.
The museum also will include a rooftop Sky Garden, a Smart Classroom and a Museum Store.
Designed by prominent late architect Barry Berkus, the 25,000-square-foot museum will be Santa Barbara County’s first LEED-certified museum.
A Children's Museum board has existed for more than 20 years.
"Children's museums across the nation are the fastest-growing museums," said Sheila Cushman, the museum's executive director. "Families of all economic levels are very interested in providing educational opportunities for their children."
Cushman said the museum will be part of a diamond of educational and recreational opportunities for families and children consisting of the Santa Barbara Maritime Museum, The Sea Center, The Santa Barbara Zoo and the new Children's Museum. Chase Palm Park and Skater's Point are also sandwiched in the middle.
"This site could not have been better," Cushman said.
She said there's already great interest. At least twice a month she's received calls from people standing outside the building wondering where the museum is.
"I have had calls for people standing at the entrance," Cushman said. "They googled 'Santa Barbara' and 'children.'"
Cushman said she is thrilled that the museum has jumped its final hurdle.
"It is so rewarding," she said. "People are so excited. They have made financial commitments and emotional commitments and they can't wait for us to open the door."