The Louisiana Children’s Museum’s long-anticipated move to New Orleans’ City Park appears to be on track, with qualifications for construction bids for the $38 million facility due in two weeks.
The museum has been situated in the Warehouse districts since its founding more than three decades ago, and the move to City Park is aimed at offering more opportunity for children to experience the outdoors, with the new building slated to go up alongside one of the park's lagoons.
The State Bond Commission last year approved $7.8 million for the project and on Thursday wait-listed it for future financing.
Thursday's action was largely a symbolic acknowledgement of the state’s future support for the project, officials said.
In a brief phone conversation, the museum’s CEO, Julia Bland, said little about the decision, citing a detailed announcement slated for some point next week.
“I don’t think that there is any worry for the museum,” she said.
The museum has been trying for years to secure funding for its Early Learning Village, slated to open near the New Orleans Museum of Art by 2018. Officials have sought both public and private-sector money and thus far have collected at least $6 million in private donations.
The private cash pool may in fact be much higher. Bland would not answer specific questions about the project’s financing or scope, citing the pending announcement.
The museum is also expected to fund the project in part with proceeds from the eventual sale of its longtime home on Julia Street.
Receiving a “non-cash” credit line essentially amounts to being wait-listed, and the priority a non-cash credit line is given determines how quickly it will get funded.
The Children’s Museum on Thursday was given a $19.5 million “priority 5” non-cash line of credit, or the last of the state's five priorities for capital projects. While that might appear to raise questions about the likelihood of the project being funded, Rep. Neil Abramson, a New Orleans Democrat who chairs the House Ways and Means Committee that puts together the capital outlay budget, said awarding a non-cash line of credit is a standard practice after a project has already received a cash line of credit.
“The reason why we follow with the non-cash line of credit is because that non-cash turns into cash in future years” when the project needs more money to continue, he said. “The project isn’t going to spend all that money in one year.”
The museum in October was approved for $7.8 million in cash for fiscal year 2017. The non-cash line approved Thursday is a reasonable assurance that the project will receive more financing in the next fiscal year, Abramson said.
Though “we have a lot more projects that could go forward, and maybe should go forward, than we have money for,” he said, speaking of the other projects on the state’s $1.3 billion non-cash list, “there’s no indication that the Children’s Museum is not going to move forward.”
Indeed, there have already been signs of movement.
Officials kicked off the bidding process for construction this month, with a deadline of Feb. 2 for firms to submit qualifications to be included on a select list. The museum will then evaluate that list and invite select construction firms to place bids, officials said. Bids are due March 28.
Plans drawn up by the project’s team of architects, Mithun of Seattle and Waggonner & Ball of New Orleans, were approved by the City Planning Commission’s Design Advisory Review Board in August.
The plans call for two linked buildings totaling 56,000 square feet on an 8.5-acre site. The facility will include two floors of galleries, a parent teacher resource center, a literacy center, a kitchen, a cafe, a museum store and support spaces.
In a memorandum submitted to the city in October, a Mithum representative said “the project has reached its critical funding goals and is on track to go to construction in 2016 and open in early 2018.”
Note: This story has been updated to include additional context from Bland about the start of the bidding process.