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[IMGCAP(1)]JACKSON, MS-Ground will break Aug. 8 on the long-awaited Mississippi Children’s Museum. First conceived in the 1990s and originally scheduled to go into construction last fall, the $24.5-million project was delayed as backers sought additional funds.

Only a bit more than $18.5 million had been committed to the museum’s capital campaign by the end of June, but museum board member Bill Bynum, CEO of Jackson-based Enterprise Corp. of the Delta and Hope Community Credit Union, says the organization has enough money to start work on the 43,000-sf project at 2140 Riverside Dr. in LeFleur’s Bluff State Park. Completion is planned for early 2010.

“We are still hard at work as we continue to raise the remaining $6 million,” Bynum says. “The vision for the museum began more than 10 years ago and we have made tremendous strides. We will continue that momentum as we break ground next month, begin the construction process and reach our financial goals.” The Junior League of Jackson is spearheading the fund-raising effort.

The museum’s executive director, Susan Garrard, says she believes the project will be one of the best children’s museums in the world. According to the Association of Children’s Museums in Washington, DC, there are 341 children’s museums in 23 countries. The organization says about one quarter of them are still in startup.

[IMGCAP(2)]The Jackson project will include 20,000 sf of exhibit space and 23,000 sf of administrative and support space. The 500-acre state park also is home to the Mississippi Museum of Natural Science, a 73,000-sf building at 2148 Riverside. The location of the two museums side by side is expected to boost the city’s tourist potential by attracting families throughout the region, Bynum tells GlobeSt.com.

Exhibits in the children’s museum will focus on five themes: Mississippi heritage, the arts, health and nutrition, literacy and the world at work. The signature exhibit will be a 5,000-sf topographical “climbing map” of the state that children will be able to crawl over, under and through to help them better understand and explore the state’s history and heritage. “This is their place,” Garrard says, “and all exhibits will be designed carefully to help children imagine a future full of potential.”

Although it’s located outside the city center, local leaders regard the museum as a significant element in attempts to revive Downtown Jackson. According to Mara Hartmann, spokeswoman for the Jackson Convention & Visitors Bureau, the city has recently seen or soon will see more than $700 million of new tourist-related private and public projects. In addition to the children’s museum, they include the restoration of the Old Capitol Museum, construction of a new Mississippi Museum of Art and Mississippi Museum of History, redevelopment of the King Edward Hotel and completion of the Old Capitol Green, a $300-million, mixed-use project by New Orleans-based Entergy Corp. and the state, spanning several Downtown blocks. When added to the numerous smaller restaurants and businesses moving in Downtown, Hartmann says the development total exceeds $1 billion.

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