Saturday, April 12, 2008

Fall River Children's Museum - An Unfurnished Home

It was several years ago when I first heard that there was a group working to establish a children's museum in Fall River. I was excited. This, I thought, was a great resource for our city. A children's museum would be both a benefit to the children of this city, and a great tool for economic development. It would make Fall River a family destination and tie in wonderfully with Battleship Cove and the Marine Museum.

Today, the museum exists but only as a series of traveling exhibitions. It's board is working to establish a home but also to establish a presence.

Over the years I've mulled over various locations that I thought would be a perfect home. South Main Place, the former Police station, the old Durfee Tech, all these sites have been on my list at one time or another.

So what is a perfect location? Ideally it should be in or near the heart of downtown where it can draw on other nearby attractions and serve as tool for revitalization. It should be someplace with convenient parking, in walking distance to restaurants and shops.

Recently, with the news that a Fall River landmark is closing I'm convinced this is the opportunity for the Children's Museum of Greater Fall River to finally find a home.

After 87 years Modern Furniture is closing their Fall River location. The building which is currently up for sale offers parking and over 27,ooo sq. feet of space. The building has been fairly well maintained and best of all because of it's use as a furniture store it has a very open floor plan.

I'm convinced that this is potentially the best location for the Children's Museum and if there is one downfall it's the 1.2 million asking price. This is where some creative thinking is needed. Perhaps Modern Furniture could lease the building to the Children's Museum with an option to buy? Perhaps the city could purchase the building and lease it to the Children's Museum. Maybe the Office of Economic Development could help secure the funding. Possibly our local delegation could secure some state money for this purpose or help in identifying available grant money for this purpose.

If you've been to a children's museum you can instantly see the benefit they have. The excitement and energy of children experiencing and learning new things. They teach and inspire. It's a place not just for children but for families. Our city needs this, not just for our children and our families but the families that will come here to experience it. These families will make a day of it, visiting Battleship Cove, walking the boardwalk, and visiting our eateries. Establishing our Children's Museum in the Modern Furniture building places it firmly in the Arts Overlay District. It's an area where we want this type of use to flourish. It's an area where we want people to visit and experience.

I truly believe that this could be the cornerstone of a Fall River renaissance, I only hope we don't let this opportunity slip through our fingers.


Far Right said...

" Perhaps the city could purchase the building and lease it to the Children's Museum. Maybe the Office of Economic Development could help secure the funding. Possibly our local delegation could secure some state money for this purpose or help in identifying available grant money for this purpose."


If it is so wonderful then I am sure you could get the local business community to FOOT THE BILL.

Lefty said...

If the local business community was willing to foot the bill then I think the Children's Museum would have a home by now.

I'm not suggesting that the city should simply buy the building and hand the Children Museum the keys. I'm saying that we need to step forward and secure this site with an agreement that the Museum would lease to own.

Why should the public foot the bill? Because it's an investment in our city and in its development. The Children's Museum in Easton draws over 45,000 visitors annually! The Providence Children's Museum has boasted almost 3 times that number.

This will bring people into our city and help raise the profile of our city. This will help establish Fall River as a family destination. It ties in with our Arts Overlay and hopes for downtown revitalization.

I'm not sure we can afford not to invest in this.

General said...

If you build it, they might not come.

Other communities have invested in Children Museums and they bit the dust after a few years.

Before I back such a proposal I want to know a few things:

1. Who are the players behind this?

2. what do they have to gain from
this venture?

3. Where will the revenue come from? (Private - Public)

4. Will this become a political hack haven??

Ideas sound good...but I want hard facts.

I say no support until we hear answers to these and other questions.

Lefty said...


I agree questions would need to be answered.

As a corporation the CMGFR has been around for 7-8 years. Who are the players? Well the members of it's board are public record and include Joanne Sbrega, wife of BCC president John Sbrega, and Fall River Spirit editor Rick Snizek.

With this become a 'hack-haven' and what do they have to gain? Well it's not a city run entity. Not that that guarantees anything. I can tell you that the people involved are dedicated and the gain is doing something for the community. Just as easily you could accuse them of being self-serving. It's not worth arguing the point. However, I will say over the last 7-8 years there is been more hard work and sacrifice than glory.

Where would revenue come from? I guess monies would come from admission fees from families and field trips. Perhaps gift shop revenue. I imagine some operating capital would come from various grants.

Remember this is just my idea. If it were to become a reality the CMGFR would need to demonstrate that it was ready to take this next step. Likely a combination of city and state assistance to secure a home would be needed. It's also likely that citizens and local business leaders would need to step and donate to allow for the construction of the interactive displays that make a children's museum what it is.

Togo said...

If it is such a good idea then I AM SURE that the local business community would be will to underwrite any loans need to get this started

just jenn said...

I think it is a wonderful idea Lefty. And you are right... it is one we cannot afford not to look into...

Annie said...

Sorry people but lets look at some issues


People from the Boston area will go to the Boston Children's Museum

People from Providence and Worcester areas will go to the Providence Children's Museum


Patrons from Battleship Cove ?

A day at Battleship Cove for a family of 4

Entrance $44.00
Lunch $30.00
Souvenirs $20.00
Total $94.00

After a hundred dollar day most families will be finished spending money

I do not believe that this museum will be able to generate enough revenue to be profitable

General said...

Forgive me for being skeptical, but in Fall River we tend to do everything half-ass, with little to no research on the issue.

Again, I say it sounds good but I to side with Annie. I do not think Fall River is the type of community that can support this type of venture.

Just look at the attempt to locate a book store in Fall River. Here we are a city of over 90,000 and one bookstore cannot survive. You might say that is apples and oranges, I would disagree.

It is a reflection on the average type of person in Fall River. The adults, for the most part, do not see the benefit in bookstores, museums, the arts.

Take a look at the Narrows Center for the Arts. They have done a great job. I am friendly with some of the organizers. They tell me that a huge majority of the patrons come from outside the city.

With a children's museum you will need the locals to sustain it.

Lefty said...

Annie, General

You both bring up some legitimate concerns.

However, a Children's Museum, once established would become a field trip destination for countless schools within let's say a 60 mile radius. It would also become a family destination for people in our local area and beyond. Families would make a day of coming to Fall River and going to Battleship Cove and then going to the Children's Museum. Scout sleepovers would now include a visit to the museum.

Now I believe this can happen for a few reasons. One, schools are always looking for new places to go on field trips. The same goes for families. Sure people from Boston are going to go to the Boston Children's Museum but there will be those who will come here because they've done the Boston Museum and their looking for something different. Maybe an exhibit here catches their attention. The same goes for Providence. But there's also all the communities in between. Of course there would be discounts for groups, and hopefully some sort of package rate that would make visiting various Fall River attractions more economical. However for a family of 4 the cost of admission would probably be $24-$28 dollars without any such discount which I still think makes it fairly affordable.

Now for this to work the museum has to be a quality operation. I'm not part of the board but if I was I would probably be contacting children's museums from around the country for input on what displays are most popular, most educational etc.

I'm a firm believer that a Children's Museum will be and should be a valuable resource for our children, our families, and our schools. But there is no doubt that for this to be successful it needs to draw people in from outside of our community. I very much doubt that the children's museums in Providence, Boston, or Easton exist on just the patronage of their immediate area.

They need to draw people in from outside the area and this is what makes them a part of economic development. For several communities this was a key factor in supporting and establishing a children's museum - because of the role it plays in bringing people into the community. And this is much different than a book store, which relies on local patronage and has to compete with other area book stores and online sales.

Both of you, it's good to have questions and good to be skeptical. The CMGFR is still in its infancy and needs to prove that it can successfully implement a plan like this if we're going to have any role in making it happen.

Anonymous said...

I have to agree I think a childrens museum is a fantastic idea As with any plan there will be kinks to work out but damn it Fall River is so rich in history The city has got to start somewhere it's been left in a slump way too long I'm not saying dump the expense on the taxpayers but there has to be some positive input to help it succeed. The price of the battleship might be expensive but it;s a heck of a exhibition for people that have never had the chance to go on it we're all just used to it
I say a childrens museum is a great idea even a children/history museum.
There's alot this city has offer you just need the right people to lead it

Anonymous said...

I have to disagree with the comments regarding Fall River's lack of appreciation of the arts.
Being first generation Portuguese (the largest ethnicity in the city), I have to say there are many art-talented folks in the local Portuguese population with diverse forms of art - from folk music, to wood carvings, to knitting. These are all forms of artistic expression I've experienced first-hand at festas and in private homes. The Portuguese people are very passionate and it comes out in their art. One of the major problems has been the lack of a cross-cultural platform to showcase these talents. An arts overlay district COULD be the answer.

Anonymous said...

Maybe should go with marine museum nobody goes there either they should look into buildings near the battleship cove or like heritage park pavilion nobody uses that place either at least they have a stage