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This Discovery Place museum is closing for a couple years to make way for new building

Discovery Place Nature museum will be closing in 2020 for at least two years for construction.
Discovery Place Nature museum will be closing in 2020 for at least two years for construction. Courtesy of Discovery Place

Discovery Place Nature, one of the Charlotte-based museum’s four sites in the area, will shut down in 2020 for at least two years.

The nearly 70-year-old museum will be torn down and replaced with a building more than twice its size, Discovery Place CEO Catherine Wilson Horne said.

Mecklenburg County made plans in 2017 to spend $16 million on renovations at Discovery Place Nature. That money, along with money from private partners and donations, will be used for the building project.

Horne would not say how much money Discovery Place expects to spend on the project.

An Observer article from 2015 said work to renovate the building would cost $28 million, but those plans have changed. Horne said Discovery Place is still working on the redesign.

The 13,000-square-foot building from 1951 would be replaced with a building that will be just under 29,000 square feet, Horne said. She said the building design would better incorporate outdoor space and the greenway.

The location next to Freedom Park connects to the Little Sugar Creek Greenway. The new design will also open space for more exhibits, she said.

“It’s a really exciting project, to recognize that this is one of the first places in Charlotte where children and adults come to understand that natural world,” Horne said.

Discovery Place Nature has live animal exhibits, including flying squirrels, snakes, a screech owl and the city’s official groundhog, Queen Charlotte. Deciding where the animals will go during construction is still being planned, Discovery Place spokeswoman Kristen Swing said, but they will probably be moved to temporary space at Discovery Place Science in uptown Charlotte, or other local facilities.

Public support

The museum would likely close in the fall of 2020 and reopen in 2022, Horne said.

Visitors to Discovery Place Nature made up 9.4% of all of Discovery Place location’s attendance last year, Discovery Place spokeswoman Kristen Swing said. Almost 72,000 people visited the Freedom Park location in fiscal year 2018, part of the 763,729 visitors at all four Discovery Place locations.

Public support for Discovery Place in gifts, grants, contributions and membership fees brought in $12.6 million in 2017, according to the museum’s financial records. The museum also received $843,845 from the Arts and Science Council in fiscal year 2017-18.

Mecklenburg County voters will have a choice in the Nov. 5 ballot to raise sales taxes to send more money to the Arts and Science Council, and ultimately, groups like Discovery Place Nature. The quarter-cent increase laid out in the sales tax referendum would raise $50 million each year. County commissioners voted to allocate $22.5 million of that money to the Arts and Science Council.

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Hannah Smoot covers business in Charlotte, focusing on health care, aviation and sports business. She previously covered money and power at The Rock Hill Herald in South Carolina. She is a lifelong North Carolinian and graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
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