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Children's museum construction to start next week at Canalside

Architect's rendering of the Explore & More Children’s Museum at Canalside.

Construction will begin on the new Explore & More Children's Museum at Canalside next week, four weeks after the official groundbreaking, the nonprofit's CEO told Buffalo Place board members Wednesday.

Douglas Love said LeChase Construction of Rochester will start work on the $27 million project, which is expected to serve as a cultural anchor to attract visitors to the city's waterfront when it opens late next year.

The 23-year-old East Aurora museum currently serves about 60,000 people every year at its current facility. At its new location, it's projected to draw more than 250,000 people in its first year.

The structure – which Love said resembles "a mercantile building that kids have taken over and made a lot more fantastic" – will include three floors of exhibits designed by a California firm that specializes in children's museums.

It will feature seven "educational play zones" centered around Western New York. That decision was based on feedback from focus groups about what the museum should offer, Love said.

Second grade students from Waterfront Elementary have fun digging in the dirt at the groundbreaking for the new Explore & More Children's Museum at Canalside, Wednesday, March 29, 2017. (Derek Gee/Buffalo News)

"That's pretty unique in the category of children's museums," he said. "If you go into a children's museum, for the most part, you don't know if you're in Pittsburgh or Albuquerque. They're great, and kids love them, but it's not necessarily about the city they're in. We are creating the nation's first place-based children's museum."

Exhibits will focus on the importance and power of water, the range of cultures, religions and ethnic groups in Buffalo, sports in Western New York, local inventions (such as ice bikes), getting around Buffalo, the region's architecture and the region's farming.

There also will be a "low-bridge" café along the canal tow path. A call for proposals to operate the café will be issued soon.

"It's a great location, if you can imagine being right at the corner with a restaurant café and having tables outside on the banks of the replicated canal," he said. "We hope that we are the first step in many businesses down there."

The museum already raised $19 million in capital, including a $9 million pledge from the state for the core-and-shell construction. It also received significant commitments from Wegmans Food Markets, Delaware North and Perry's Ice Cream, among others.

The museum still needs to raise $8 million.

"There are a few exciting announcements that will be made," including one next month, Love said.

"We're certainly chugging along, still have money to raise, but we're definitely on a roll," he said.

The museum will offer free admission for children receiving public benefits or other government assistance, or who obtain a pass through a library. The Niagara Frontier Automobile Dealers Association has also provided $250,000 over 10 years for transportation to bring qualifying schoolchildren to the museum at no charge. And children with autism can come to the museum with their families for free once a month.

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