It’s Official: The Milwaukee Public Museum Has Chosen a New Location

The Milwaukee Public Museum is moving to Sixth and McKinley near the Deer District.

We’ve known for awhile now that the Milwaukee Public Museum’s current structure on West Wells Street is failing. The facility doesn’t have a fully functioning HVAC, temperature control is a problem and a leaking roof poured water into the exhibits in the spring. 

Overall, the building that MPM has occupied since the 1960s has been deemed unsafe to house museum collections. 

Knowing this, MPM leaders have been on a years-long journey to find a new location that would suit the needs of Milwaukee’s natural and human history museum that currently hosts three floors of exhibits including life-size dioramas, walk-through villages, dinosaurs, a rainforest, a live butterfly garden and even a planetarium. All that, plus some half a million visitors each year. 

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On Friday,  the Milwaukee Public Museum announced the location of their new home. It will be downtown in the Haymarket District – adjacent to the quickly growing Deer District – at the northeast corner of Sixth and McKinley Streets. The site is 2.4 acres and the central location places it close to the freeway and multiple bus routes. 

“For 140 years and through four homes, MPM has been part of this neighborhood,” Ellen Censky, president & CEO of the Milwaukee Public Museum, said in a news release. “By locating our new home in the historic Haymarket District on McKinley Street, MPM will remain in a part of the city that is close to neighborhoods and is accessible for all, and will continue to have an integral presence in the minds and hearts of our community for generations to come.”

MPM reviewed hundreds of sites before landing on this location. Currently, the site is three parcels that will be combined into one that will create space for MPM’s 230,000-square-foot facility. 

Inside the new museum there will be exhibit space, visitor services, a cafe and store, underground parking, collections research and storage, classrooms, an auditorium, event space, offices, a small workshop for exhibit maintenance and back-of-house spaces.

The Silurian Reef exhibit at the current Milwaukee Public Museum. Photo courtesy of Milwaukee Public Museum

The Betty Brinn Children’s Museum will be moving to the site, too. It will have 30,0000 square feet in the facility. 

“We could not be more excited to move forward with designing and constructing a new space for Betty Brinn Children’s Museum – one that is designed from the outset to be a children’s museum and enables us to inspire kids to the very best of our abilities,” Brian King, executive director of Betty Brinn, said in the release. 

Choosing the site is just one step – albeit a significant milestone – in the museum’s big move. MPM still needs to secure funds to purchase the site and there’s also work to be done on a “carefully crafted, long-term plan” to design the new facility. 

Next up, the museum will work with an architect to incorporate sustainable design practices. A final cost estimate will come after that; early estimates ranged as high as $200 million.  

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Allison Garcia is the Digital Editor for Milwaukee Magazine.