Boonshoft unlikely to re-open in downtown Springfield

9:31 a.m. Friday, July 22, 2016 Community News

The Boonshoft Museum might still draw residents to Clark County, but it likely won’t be to downtown Springfield, museum officials said this week.

The museum, which drew about 21,000 visitors to Springfield in 2015, closed its location at the Upper Valley Mall earlier this year, citing declining foot traffic.

Museum leaders had considered reopening at a location in downtown Springfield but have decided against that because of the cost, said Mark Meister, president and CEO of the Dayton Society of Natural History.

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“Initially we were investigating a downtown location but then we determined it would be too expensive for renovation and operations,” Meister said. “We are still looking for an appropriate space in Springfield but at this point we have not signed any agreements for any spaces and we don’t have a timetable for when something might happen.”

Boonshoft had considered a handful of locations, including the former Myers Market building that currently houses United Seniors Services at 101 S. Fountain Ave. But to do so, it needed to raise about $2 million to renovate the space and an additional $2 million for an endowment. The museum’s board preferred to have raised the money by this month.

Local leaders will continue to work with the Boonshoft to find an appropriate location in Springfield, said Mike McDorman, president and CEO of the Chamber of Greater Springfield. But the cost of the project and short timetable was unrealistic, he said.

“We believe the Boonshoft board’s expectations of Springfield were higher than can be realized at that location,” McDorman said.

A group of private business and foundation leaders recently announced an SpringForward, a new non-profit tasked with raising money to provide low-interest loans to entrepreneurs and spur development downtown.

>>DETAILS: $4.8M raised for downtown Springfield redevelopment

But McDorman said raising that kind of money in just a few months was not feasible.

“That created a big challenge for the community to come up with $4 million for that particular site and it was not achievable in the time frame they were looking at,” he said.

Local economic development officials were hopeful the museum could remain open at the mall until a new site could be found, McDorman said.

But the mall saw a significant decline in foot traffic in 2015 after anchors like J.C. Penney and Macy’s closed their stores. The roughly 20,000-square-foot-museum had occupied space at the former Elder-Beerman store since the end of 2013.

About 25,000 people visited Boonshoft there in 2014, but that number dipped about 20 percent after the stores left.

But board members still see Springfield as a good fit for the museum.

“We viewed Springfield as an independent metropolitan area that had a deficit in regard to the type of facility we provide in terms of hands-on science education,” Meister said. “We were very well-received by the public in Springfield. In our first year we had 25,000 visitors at the mall and that puts us right at the top of cultural attractions in Springfield.”

The 100-year-old Myers building is expected to be vacated by United Senior Services by Oct. 1. The senior organization is renovating the former Eagles property on West Main Street.

Earlier, community stakeholders told the city they’d like to see the historic building become a museum, a retail or restaurant development, or return it to a market, said Tom Franzen, assistant city manager and economic development director. Springfield will likely issue a request for proposals later this year to see what other ideas developers may have for the city-owned property.

“Maybe there’s something we’re not thinking of,” Franzen said. “We don’t want to limit the opportunities there. The city is focused on trying to find a productive reuse that would enhance the investments already here by the private and public sector. If we can generate additional traffic or add an amenity that doesn’t exist today, that would be great.”

In the meantime, the museum has continued to offer educational programs at local school districts, Meister said, and that will continue. The museum’s experience at the mall also provided some insight into how to operate in a new location if a new site is found, Meister said.

“We learned a lot in being at the Upper Valley Mall and so we know how we need to scale the operation so that it’s appropriate for Springfield,” Meister said.

Chris Schutte, director of the Greater Springfield Convention and Visitors Bureau, was disappointed to hear that Boonshoft won’t go downtown.

“The idea of a ‘museum district’ downtown was very attractive from a tourism perspective,” he said. “With that said, I’m equally excited about some other potential adaptive reuses of the Myers Market Building. It would be a prime location for a year-round, indoor marketplace similar to Second Street Market in Dayton, which would have the potential to be a significant driver for our downtown.”