The New York Times reports that the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh is at the vanguard of a national movement that is seeing stronger relationships between museums, real estate and economic and community development.
In his article, Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh Leads Movement to Acquire Tenants, writer David Gelles cites the Northside-based museum as a national model for how cultural institutions are expanding their missions to choose tenants, collect rents and develop dilapidated neighborhoods.
And there are significant ripple effects throughout the cities that house them. “Museums in big cities help create very desirable living environments,” said Ford W. Bell, president of the American Alliance of Museums. “It can make sense for a museum to encourage development nearby.”
Gelles writes: “One of the most ambitious of such projects is underway near the banks of the Allegheny River, where the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh has accumulated an unusual portfolio of properties. In the 1980s, the museum occupied an abandoned post office in the North Shore neighborhood. In the late 1990s, it expanded into a neighboring building to accommodate more visitors.”
Growing to 80,000 square feet from 20,000 square feet, the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh has welcomed six tenants, including Pittsburgh Public Schools Head Start classrooms, a nonprofit that promotes reading (Reading Is FUNdamental) and a radio organization (SLB Radio Productions, Inc.). The museum charges below-market rents to the groups, but the income made a difference.
“They’re contributing to the costs of utilities and capital needs over time,” said Chris Siefert, the museum’s deputy director. “And on the business side, they’re contributing to our earned revenue.”
Other signs of success for the Children’s Museum? It has continued to expand its footprint, taking over management of Buhl Community Park in front of the museum, and partnering with other arts groups, including the Andy Warhol Museum, to renovate the nearby New Hazlett Theater.
Now the museum is looking at taking over a nearby 45,000-square-foot property that was formerly Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh’s Alleghney Regional Branch. The plan is to create a multi-use arts and research center that the museum will operate on a long-term lease from the city.
“We look at our four blocks here as a campus,” Mr. Siefert said. “It’s a community asset.”
Real estate ventures have bolstered the museum’s finances while allowing it to shape the neighborhood.
And institutions across the US are following its lead.
Gelles goes on to profile projects being undertaken by The Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, the Museum of Art and History in Santa Cruz and the Museum of Science and Industry in Tampa.