Written by The Business Journal Staff
A long-awaited ground breaking is set early next month for a $6.5 million interactive children’s museum in downtown Visalia.
“We can’t wait to get going,” said Bill Whitlatch, board member for the ImagineU Interactive Children’s Museum that has garnered more than a million dollars in local support to build and equip the 15,000 square-foot facility.
The museum will be a cornerstone development for the new Visalia Civic Center area in the eastern part of downtown. The project, located at Oak Avenue and Tipton Street, has been in the works for years and now awaits only the demolition of an old auto repair building to get started. That should be complete in the next few weeks.
ImagineU applied for its conditional use permit for the new building last March, and was to break ground by July. But delays in relocating a tenant who rented from the city — owner of the land — delayed the groundbreaking until now.
The auto repair place, Foreign Auto Works, recently relocated and now some small asbestos removal will take place followed by full demolition of the old building in the first week of December. “About 90 percent of our construction plans are into the city,” added Whitlatch.
ImagineU began as the idea of founder Angela Reyna in 2001, and through the generosity of Giant Chevrolet — which donated the current building location at 700 E. Main St. — the idea has grown into a fully functioning learning center.
The educational and interactive museum has everything from science exhibits, an intricate train set, music and other activities for children to explore their talents.
In 2011, the project was awarded a $5 million-plus grant to help build a permanent larger facility. While the board of directors looked around the city for a place to build, they settled on some city-owned land along Mill Creek at the gateway to what is expected to be the new Downtown Civic Center district where a new police and fire administrative office, 911 Center as well council chambers will be constructed in coming years. The new museum is just a block away from the Visalia Chamber of Commerce office as well.
The design of the new museum is next to what will be an enhanced Mill Creek with a park-like setting and walking trail from downtown
Each year, the museum hosts a variety of interactive events and displays, many of which are free to the public.
“We expect the place to attract children from all over the Valley,” Whitlatch said. “We already have many of our interactive displays in storage.”
He expects it will be open for visitors in early 2015.