City considers demolishing main Discovery Place museum to revitalize aging site

City considers demolishing main Discovery Place museum to revitalize aging site
Discovery Place Science in uptown Charlotte could be demolished, city staff revealed at the annual City Council retreat. But it’s unclear how the city can afford the project with existing tourism revenues. (Source: JOHN D. SIMMONS/OBSERVER FILE PHOTO)

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (The Charlotte Observer) - The Discovery Place Science Museum in uptown Charlotte may be razed and rebuilt in the city’s push to revitalize the outdated facility and the surrounding North Tryon corridor.

A “full demolition” is one of two scenarios Charlotte is exploring to reboot the museum that was built in 1981. The city and Mecklenburg County spent $31.6 million on Discovery Place renovations in 2010.

In a less drastic effort, Charlotte may also pursue a “complete rehab of (the) existing facility,” Tracy Dodson, the assistant city manager and economic development director, revealed at the Charlotte City Council’s annual retreat in Durham Wednesday.

But it remains unclear how Charlotte intends to finance such changes — and how much public money, most likely derived from tourism revenues, would be available.

Mayor Vi Lyles told reporters Wednesday that Discovery Place, a city-owned property, is “hugely significant” for STEM education and Charlotte’s workforce.

“When we look at other STEM-based museums, they are significantly changing so they’re more flexible and agile,” Lyles said. “If we have to tear down to build what’s right, that’s what we do.”

Across the street from Discovery Place, Charlotte Mecklenburg Library’s main branch at 310 N. Tryon St. is already slated for demolition in early 2021. A reimagined sleeker structure — featuring five levels of flexible spaces outfitted with modern technology — is expected to open in 2024, with construction costs estimated at $100 million.

MASTER PLANNING PROCESS

Discovery Place officials acknowledged that their flagship uptown location is dated, and said they’ve been in a “master planning process” with the city for the last two years.

In a statement to the Charlotte Observer on Thursday, Discovery Place CEO Catherine Wilson Horne said the museum “was built in the 1980s for the population of that time.

“In the three decades that have followed, not only have we have seen the population more than double, but we’ve seen exponential growth in the need for education related to science, technology and nature,” Horne stated. “The master planning process has been dedicated to looking at the options — which range from renovations to a rebuild — that will enable us to serve the science education needs of this community and to maintain Discovery Place’s leadership position for decades to come.”

Horne declined to comment on the cost of a potential renovation or replacement of the building, or take additional questions from Observer reporters.

Tourism revenue streams are expected to grow substantially in the next two decades, Charlotte’s chief financial officer told the City Council Wednesday. But it remains unclear which projects, beyond Major League Soccer, are tapped as priorities — and how they may impact Charlotte’s debt capacity.

Through a partnership between Panthers owner David Tepper and the City Council, Lyles has already pledged to set aside $110 million in hospitality funds to support Tepper’s successful MLS bid. But Dodson said there could be additional public funding requests from Tepper, depending on future renovations or overhauls of Bank of America Stadium, where the soccer team will begin play by 2021.

MORE MUSEUM CONCERNS

Another Discovery Place museum site, Discovery Place Nature in Myers Park, has also been the topic of major discussion in recent months. Discovery Place and Mecklenburg County leaders are making plans to demolish the building and construct a new one.

Neighbors of the museum, which sits on a quiet residential street, have come out strongly against the plan, saying it would create traffic and safety issues.

Leaders of the museum and the county are meeting with neighbors next week to discuss possible solutions. Mecklenburg County owns the the Discovery Place Nature building and the land it sits on.

Talk of major improvements at Discovery Place comes at a time when the city’s arts and culture communities are still reeling from voters’ rejection of a sales tax referendum in November. It would have given $22.5 million to local arts groups through the Arts & Science Council.

Copyright 2020 The Charlotte Observer. All rights reserved.