New Union Terminal: More rockets, dinos

The Cincinnati Museum Center is trying to figure out what kind of exhibits might be added once its $212 million facelift is done in two years.

The early favorites include more stuff about dinosaurs and space exploration.

Museum Center officials won’t say much about their prospects for new exhibits right now, in large part because they’re still talking to potential donors about what’s possible. But Director Elizabeth Pierce said they’re working behind the scenes to come up with new attractions to show off when the museum’s reconstruction is complete.

“We’re very excited about what we can put back into the exhibits,” she said Monday.

Pierce said the museum has done consumer testing on what the public would like to see and has talked to private donors about what they might be willing to support. So far, she said, there is interest in expanding the museum’s science-related exhibits, building on the region’s connection to Ohio native Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the moon, and space exploration, and finding more room for the museum’s collection of dinosaur fossils.

“There’s a big emphasis on paleontology,” Pierce said.

Other possibilities include adding interactive science experiments for kids that focus on physics and chemistry, and possibly combining history and science lessons related to Greater Cincinnati’s connection to manufacturing.

Museum visitors will have to wait about two years to see whether those ideas become reality. Hamilton County commissioners are expected to approve a development plan for the historic Union Terminal on Wednesday, which will allow major construction to get underway.

The $212 million project is funded mostly by a five-year sales tax that’s expected to raise $175 million. The rest of the cost will be covered by state and federal tax credits, grants and private donations.

So far, the project’s planning stages have gone well, said John Silverman, chairman of the Union Terminal Restoration Committee. “We are, overall, on budget and on time,” he said.

Most of the renovation work at the 83-year-old converted train station won’t be seen by museum visitors because it involves foundation and roof reconstruction, new windows, and improved electrical, heating and cooling systems. There will be new lobby and classroom space and a revamped dining room, but most of the improvements will go unnoticed by visitors.

That’s why the promise of new exhibits is so important, Pierce said. The museum wants visitors to have a new experience, not just a new roof.

County commissioners agreed. Though they were happy to hear the project is on budget, they also quizzed Pierce about new exhibits.

“That’s the question I get asked most,” said Commissioner Todd Portune.

“Stay tuned,” Pierce said. “It’s a big opportunity.”

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