Charlotte attraction getting $31M facelift
CHARLOTTE -- Discovery Place, one of the region's most popular attractions, will close to the public in January 2009 for 14 months, for the most extensive renovations in its 26-year history.
The $31.6 million project, funded by city and county tax dollars, will dramatically change the center's interior. It will improve and replace aging exhibits, open a 3-D science theater and create one main entrance off Sixth Street.
The projects, long sought to bring the aging center up to date, will be done without significantly adding to the museum's square footage, adds John Mackay, president and CEO of Discovery Place.
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"That doesn't mean the plan is limited in scope," he says. "Not a lot of money is being spent on fancy finishes, whistles and bells. We're putting the premium in exhibits. That is far and away what people tell us what they come here for."
The upcoming 14-month closure will leave thousands of schoolchildren without a popular field trip option and will leave many parents looking for alternative family outings. Last year's attendance for the center, including its outreach programs in schools, was more than 531,000.
Specifics of the renovation are not finalized -- there aren't even any finished architectural renderings yet.
The project has key components:
• Improving exhibits to make them more topical, contemporary and hands-on. Some current exhibits will be removed. Others will be vastly changed. Examples: the Wachovia Science Theater will be remade into a 3-D science theater (patrons will wear special glasses), and ground-floor aquariums of 1,500 gallons will be replaced with tanks nearly 10 times that size.
• Making the center easier for patrons to maneuver, including a central staircase through the middle of the building and a single entrance on Sixth Street, between Tryon and Church streets. The gift shop, ticket counters and food facilities will be centered around this entrance. A current entrance on Tryon Street will be closed. A third entrance, via a Church Street parking deck, will remain open but will direct patrons to the main entrance.
Discovery Place officials say the project is long overdue. The museum, which was viewed as a national leader among science and technology centers when it opened in the 1980s, has suffered from aging exhibits and outdated infrastructure. City leaders put a renovation and expansion for the center before voters in 2001 as part of a $342 million arena-arts bundle plan to pay for an uptown basketball arena and other cultural projects. The referendum was defeated amid controversy over the arena.
The renovation work is expected to be complete in March 2010. Until then, both the center and the Charlotte Observer IMAX Dome Theatre will remain closed to the public.