Children’s Museum & Theater plans to leave downtown Portland for Thompson’s Point

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PORTLAND — The Children’s Museum & Theatre of Maine has optioned a little over an acre of land at Thompson’s Point and has plans for a building twice the size of its current home next to the Portland Museum of Art on Free Street.

No specific details about the project were  available this week, but Suzanne Olson, executive director of the Children’s Museum, said, “The Thompson’s Point location will greatly increase (our) accessibility given its central location, proximity to public transportation, abundant parking and vibrant neighborhood atmosphere.”

Olson said the museum is “in the early stages of a major fundraising campaign to fund the new facility and (is) hopeful about a generous response for this creative and much-needed project. Our leadership is deeply committed to a successful capital effort … (and we’re) excited about creating a new home.”

Chris Thompson, a principal for the $110 million Forefront at Thompson’s Point mixed-use development, said developers have had the museum as part of the master plan for several years, but it wasn’t until this point that the museum was “actively ready to move forward.”

“We think they’ll add a lot to the site and we’re excited about their involvement,” he said. “We view them as a key participant and are really excited to have them as partners.”

Thompson said what makes the Children’s Museum project even more special is the organization’s commitment to creating a significant outdoor play and exploration space.

The museum project is also unique within the development, he said, because unlike other property at Thompson’s Point, the parcel of land set aside for the museum has been sold instead of being developed and leased.

Since it’s so early in the process, Kyle DeVaul, director of development and communications at the Children’s Museum, said there’s no further information to be shared. So it’s unclear, for example how much the new facility will cost and how long the capital campaign will take.

However, Olson said it’s clear the museum has “outgrown its Free Street facility and is bursting at the seams.”

“Our staff, board of directors and stakeholders agree that the time is right to relocate to a new, purpose-built space with more room for our educational programs, interactive exhibits and theater performances,” she said.

Olson said the Children’s Museum is not only “one of Maine’s premier destinations for families with young children,” but also “a valuable educational asset for all (of) Maine.”

According to Olson, the nonprofit attracted more than 114,000 visitors in 2016.

“Market studies project that our attendance will nearly double over the next five years,” she said. “The new location and facility will ensure that we can serve our community, members and visitors for decades to come.”

The Children’s Museum of Maine was founded in 1976 and merged with the Children’s Theatre of Maine in 2008, after the two organizations successfully collaborated on an effort to produce three children’s theater projects at the museum.

The Junior League of Portland was the original founder and the museum has been in the former Chamber of Commerce building at 142 Free St. since 1993.

The mission of the Children’s Museum & Theatre of Maine, according to the organization’s website, is to “inspire discovery and imagination through exploration and play.”

Programs and exhibits are aimed at children from 6 months to 10 years old, while the theater productions include cast and crew members from 8 to 17.

The Children’s Theatre of Maine has an even longer history. Originally known as the Children’s Theatre of Portland, it was also founded by the Junior League. That was in 1923, which makes it the oldest continuously operating children’s theater in the country, according to the museum’s website.

In 1955, actors Bette Davis and Gary Merrill moved to Maine and adopted the Children’s Theatre as a pet project with Davis arranging for her film, “Virgin Queen,” to premiere in Portland with all the proceeds going to the theater.

In spring 2011, developers announced plans to build an events center, hotel, office buildings and nature trail at the 25-acre Thompson’s Point, on the Fore River just west of Interstate 295. The master plan, which also includes some housing and restaurants, was approved by the city in 2014.

Thompson’s Point is already home to, among others, an amphitheater and skating rink; craft beer, wine and spirits makers; the Circus Conservatory of America, and the International Cryptozoology Museum. The Portland Transporatation Center, with Amtrak Downeaster train service and the Concord Coach Lines bus terminal, is also located there.

Kate Irish Collins can be reached at 710-2336 or kcollins@theforecaster.net. Follow Kate on Twitter: @KirishCollins.

The Children’s Museum & Theatre of Maine, now on Free Street in downtown Portland, is conducting a capital campaign to fund a move to Thompson’s Point.

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