United Services for Children raising funds to build family destination on donated land in Lake Saint Louis
By Brett Auten
When it comes to spirit and passion, the support is there. Now it just depends if the dollars and cents are available to match it.
In June, it was announced that United Services for Children has partnered with the city of Lake Saint Louis and Cohen Equities to get the ball rolling for a possible new children’s museum.
Cohen Equities, the New York company which owns The Meadows at Lake Saint Louis, has offered to give three acres in the retail center, located at Meadows Circle Drive, Lake St Louis and just off of Interstate 64. The city of Lake Saint Louis has also chipped in, pledging to convert two adjacent acres into a park for museum-goers and the public. The combined value of both is approximate $2.5 million.
If all goes according to plan, United Services for Children will use the site to build a 54,000 square-foot children’s museum, including 40,000 square feet of interactive exhibits, plus classrooms for pediatric therapy, early intervention and preschool programs. The museum would be designed for universal accessibility so that children and adults of all abilities could fully utilize every part of the facility, any day of the week.
But significant contributions are needed to make the plan a reality.
Denise Liebel is the president and CEO of United Services for Children. She said the museum has a $25 million price tag and will be called the Midwest Children’s Museum.
“We are testing the feasibility,” Liebel said. “We are having meetings with new and old friends and getting our ducks in a row.”
Liebel wanted to hammer home that there will be no tax increase to help pay for the facility.
To make the museum a reality, contributions are a must, and during the remainder of 2017, the agency will meet with the principal stakeholders to determine whether sufficient interest and financial support are there. For August, September and even into October, things are slow on the fundraising side due to so much concentrated effort going into the annual United Way drive. But Liebel expects things to ramp up in November.
A conceptual drawing, created by M+H Architects of St. Louis, was unveiled during a June meeting of the Lake Saint Louis Board of Aldermen.
“This will be a fantastic amenity for the residents of Lake Saint Louis and the entire metro area,” Lake Saint Louis Mayor Kathy Schweikert said.
Schweikert said she, the Board of Aldermen and city staff were 100-percent behind this venture and that The Meadows’ central location went hand in hand with the comprehensive plan to make the retail center a “destination area for residents and visitors.”
Founded in 1975, United Services for Children, a nonprofit agency, provides therapy, early intervention, and family support services out of its center, located at 4140 Old Mill Parkway in St. Peters. United Services has been knocking around the idea for three years and have visited nearly 25 children’s museums to gather information.
A big crux behind this movement and location is the population growth seen in western St. Charles County. Liebel believes the destination will not only be a big hit locally but also a tourist attraction as well.
“It is a great fit,” Liebel said. “We feel confident that the attendance will eclipse what a study we had done three years ago said, which was 189,000 annually.”
According to Liebel, the agency is working with The Rome Group, a St. Louis-based nonprofit consulting firm, to assess fundraising capacity and develop plans. Liebel said the agency chose The Rome Group because of the firm’s demonstrated fundraising success throughout the St. Louis region.
“When people said it would take 10 years, we said no way, but here we are three years later,” Liebel said. “When we first envisioned it I thought my grandson would have his third birthday party there. He’s now six-years-old.”
Liebel said to expect a solid decision to be made by the end of the first quarter in 2018.
“If we do not have the support financially by the community in a way that it cannot be done right we will have to make a solid decision on whether we proceed or not,” she said. “Things have a way of changing during the holidays, and we will keep focused and keep moving forward. If there is no museum, we still have important work to do.