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Lease deal allowing Discovery World expansion set for approval

A modified lease agreement between Discovery World and the Port of Milwaukee, which would allow the science and technology museum to undergo an $18 million expansion and renovation, is now awaiting approval from city officials.

Discovery World, which stands along the city’s lakefront at 500 N. Harbor Drive, announced plans in April to build a 10,000-square-foot pavilion and renovate around the same amount of space inside its existing building. Museum officials say the project will help museum attract more visitors and play host to more traveling exhibits, along with providing other benefits.

Before that work can begin, however, the museum’s amended lease agreement calls for various other steps to be taken, such as the establishment of an easement that would allow a walkway to be built along the lake. The city attorney’s office notes that those changes have been in the works for around five years.

The Board of Harbor Commissioners, the body that oversees the port, approved the new lease agreement last month, and the city’s Public Works Committee did the same on Wednesday. The plans now only need the Common Council’s seal of approval to move forward.

Joel Brennan, president and chief executive of Discovery World, said the expansion will give the museum a larger lunchroom for student groups, allow it to put more traveling exhibits on display and get rid of space constraints that lead to the setting up of an outdoor tent in the spring and summer months.

Inside the building, museum officials are likewise looking to make various changes. These plans call for turning a theater area into more exhibit space, moving the museum’s gift shop to the front of the building and moving all of its offices into one place.

Brennan said the project has four general goals: Allowing the museum to accommodate more visitors, bring in more visitor revenue, provide more open and flexible spaces and have a greater significance to the community.

“We focus on STEM (science, technology and math) education,” Brennan told the Public Works Committee on Wednesday. “We want to make sure we’re inspiring the next generation.”

Alderman Mark Borkowski, who heads up the Public Works Committee and is a member of the Board of Harbor Commissioners, praised the Discovery World project.

“It is very, very exciting,” Borkowski said. “This expansion looks terrific.”

Brennan said the museum plans to break ground on the expansion part of the project in August, provided it gets the needed approval from the Common Council. The work is expected to wrap up by the end of 2018.

Discovery World plans to pay for the project using private donations.

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