Dec 8, 2023 - Development

Discovery Place Nature rebuild is in jeopardy after nearly doubling in price

Discovery Place Nature has $62 million plans for a 25,000-square-foot rebuild, complete with an otter exhibit, canopy skywalk and park.

It’s a scaled-back version of years-old plans, but it will cost significantly more than it originally did. In 2017, Mecklenburg County committed $16 million for a 30,000-square-foot building as part of a $35-million project. The costs have soared since then.

Why it matters: The museum educates local children about science and nature. It reaches a diverse population. This year, 12% of 438,521 museum visitors were from families on food stamps, according to Discovery Place.

Yes, but: The inflation-fueled construction cost escalations have put the project in jeopardy. Commissioners hesitantly approved $10 million extra for the project on Tuesday. Still, it was $10 million short of what Discovery Place says it needs. Board of Trustees member Rich Campbell says there’s no “plan B” if they can’t find the money.

  • Although the project was approved in 2017, Discovery Place didn’t receive its first bid until October 2022, after construction costs had risen. It tired to rebid and redesign the project multiple times to cut costs.
  • Some county leaders said they had a hard time feeling OK with the idea of shoring up $20 million for Discovery Place following a strenuous capital improvement plan process during which they rejected parks requests.

Details: Assuming the museum secures the funding, there’s no official schedule for construction. Discovery Place is looking to get the project underway in spring 2024, a spokesperson tells Axios.

  • The designs incorporate open spaces to draw people in from Freedom Park. The entire site is 13 acres.

By the numbers: Discovery Place is paying for $9.5 million in exhibits and $8.8 million for the canopy walk — both of which have seen costs rise as well. The proposed building, the county’s commitment, has gone up from $16 million to $36 million.

The intrigue: Discovery Place Nature’s current home was built in 1951. It was the city’s original Discovery Place, before the science museum located in Uptown. Because of its old age, it’s cheaper to rebuild than renovate, Campbell says.

Zoom out: This is not the first civic project affected by steep cost overruns locally. Charlotte City Council recently put another $2 million toward the Carolina Theatre restoration. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools says the cost of building campuses has exploded over the last decade, which is why the $2.5 billion school bond was such a large ask.

  • The $30-million Umbrella Center project has also seen cost escalations that will make it difficult to fit all the programming that was originally proposed in the facility, according to a county spokesperson.
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