Discovery Place is expanding to suburbia with its first Discovery Place Kids, set to open this fall in Huntersville.
The three-story, 24,000-square-foot building at Gilead Road and N.C. 115 near Huntersville Town Hall is the prototype for four or five other Discovery Place Kids planned in the Charlotte region in the next decade.
"More and more citizens want things closer to home," John Mackay, Discovery Place president and CEO, said on a "sneak peek" media tour of Discovery Place Kids on Wednesday. "It's getting more and more difficult to move around (on increasingly congested roads). Our ability to respond to that has been very fulfilling."
With seven themed areas offering fun and educational activities and exhibits, Discovery Place Kids expects families in the Cabarrus-Lake Norman region to visit often each year, project manager Deborah Curry said.
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The $18.7 million Huntersville project is a public-private venture that will house the museum on the first two floors and town offices on the third. A three-level parking deck is complete outside. And Charlotte developer Norcom Properties plans to construct a three-story building on the Discovery Place Kids lot that will house restaurants, other retailers and offices.
Norcom's Brian Cillian said the company hopes to complete its building by Jan. 1. Construction hasn't begun, but Cillian said it could be built in six to eight months.
Discovery Place in uptown Charlotte is completing a $31.6 million renovation that is transforming it into a science and technology learning center primarily for ages 8 to 15; Discovery Place Kids will focus on ages birth to 7 or 8.
Curry said she visited 30 museums across the country to generate the best ideas for Discovery Place Kids.
"We asked at other museums, 'Where do you find adults interacting with children the most?'" she said.
Discovery Place Kids will feature exhibits, programs and play environments that help develop cognitive, motor, communication and social skills.
Children will become visual artists, music producers and actors, and hang out in a treehouse and trade nature items.
They'll also role-play in a grocery store, fitness center and restaurant; visit a fire station, veterinarian's office, bank and law office, explore the undersea world, and plan buildings.
"This will be a very safe and fun place offering endless opportunities for children," Mackay said.