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Board approves Children's Museum design for Canalside

A new four-story building that will house Explore & More Children's Museum at Canalside is intended to have something in common with the city's older buildings.

It will be designed to look like it was originally constructed a century ago and then renovated over time.

The city's waterfront development agency on Tuesday approved the final design for the museum, clearing the way for construction to begin in March.

"I am excited about this major, major milestone," said Sam Hoyt, an Erie Canal Harbor Development Corp. board member. "I think the design reflects what we have expressed as a priority, and that it be consistent in terms of the architecture that originally stood in its place."

The waterfront agency's board of directors backed a plan calling for a 43,000-square-foot building made of brick, limestone, metal, granite and glass at the corner of Lloyd Street and Marine Drive near the canal. The Lake Street Bridge would be used to bring school children directly inside the building, while steps leading down to the towpath would bring patrons to a cafe.

Groundbreaking on the $13.29 million project at 130 Main St. is expected in March, with LeChase Construction of Rochester managing the process.

Officials hope to turn over the "core-and-shell" of the building to the museum by June 2018, followed by six months of interior work to get the museum and its exhibits ready for opening by the end of that year.

The first level of the four-story museum, designed by Orchard Park-based Fontanese, Folts, Aurbrecht & Ernst, will have a retail space, as well as a cafe on a lower level along the towpath.

Plans call for a two-story atrium space on the second floor to host a water exhibit, while the third floor provides space for several other exhibits and views of the Buffalo River. The top floor will have a rooftop terrace and "crow's nest" to offer a view of the city and the Buffalo River, as well as windows for the entire length of the building along the canal side.

“We are thrilled to be moving forward with our plans for this one-of-a-kind children’s museum at Canalside,” said Douglas Love, CEO, Explore & More Children’s Museum. “With groundbreaking next month, it will be wonderful for children and families in the city and visiting the city to watch this place being built just for them.”

Architects designed the structure as two separate but connected mercantile buildings – one from the past and one modern – and used historic images of other nearby commercial buildings on the waterfront to effectively create a story behind it, as if it had been constructed and modified over time.

So the masonry facade includes window spaces blocked up by bricks, in a way that would reflect how the building's use could have changed through its history. Meanwhile, metal panels would show where the building was presumably modified and updated in later years.

"We're not seeking a facsimile of what was done before, but to be respectful," architect Phil DiNicola of FFAE told the Planning Board on Monday. "We thought we would design it so that it is sympathetic toward the past."

At the same time, he said, the design was constrained by the West Canal, Lloyd Street, Lake Street and the Skyway, which will be only 15 feet from the building. The bridge was incorporated into the building's design to allow for easy movement of people not only to and from the museum but also to nearby activities.

"I think it's excellent not only in terms of its design but it's also a major step in the continued redevelopment of the South Aud block," Hoyt said.

The total cost of the museum is $27 million. Erie Canal Harbor Development Corp. is spending $9 million, while the cost to the museum is $18 million, of which roughly half has been raised.

Explore & More's Marketing Director Jennifer Fee expressed confidence in the museum's ability, through its capital campaign, to raise the remaining funds.

"We are exactly where we need to be financially," Fee said.

Renderings and construction drawings can be viewed online here.

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