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Museum Center Sharing Lessons Of Union Terminal Restoration

Tana Weingartner
Construction crews work on Cincinnati's Union Terminal in May 2017.

Museum leaders from around the country are in town for a two-day conference at the Cincinnati Museum Center focusing on what they can learn from the multi-million dollar Union Terminal restoration.

The Association of Midwest Museums is hosting the Big Change Summit here to enable museum professionals from the Midwest and as far away as Oregon to get detailed answers about pulling off major projects. They're expected to discuss logistical challenges, like removing and storing million of artifacts, as well as remaining relevant to the community during the renovations.

"When we think about how we managed member and public relations, how we thought about programming, how we worked with our partners in construction and architects, I think all of that is of interest to folks who are looking at a big institutional change coming up," says Whitney Owens, chief learning officer for the Cincinnati Museum Center.

The Cincinnati Museum Center reopened in November following four years of planning and renovations aimed at preserving the historic Art Deco building for another hundred years.

Even before the reopening, museum leaders from around the country were calling Cincinnati for tips.

"We have gotten queries from all over the country and beyond the country," Owens adds. "People are fascinated by this building and how we have worked with our community to bring it back to life. People are fascinated by how we became a museum without walls for a few years."

The museum has also won a handful of awards for its various construction-related programs, including a national award for the Curate My Community initiative placing items from the museums' collections on display throughout Greater Cincinnati.

"We are the very first museum to put a dinosaur in a brewery and so things like that are creating a conversation among our colleagues elsewhere," Owens says.

"We have presented at national meetings with historic preservation and financing tax credit experts," museum center CEO Elizabeth Pierce told WVXU last year. "We have been the recipient of phone calls from media around the country saying, how can this happen in Detroit or in Milwaukee or Toledo or other places? So, there's just an awareness of the unique nature of this project and how successful it has been throughout and what it is going to give back to the community long-term."

Closer to home, Union Terminal Restoration Advisory Committee Chair John Silverman says the success of this project shows this region can do big things.

"We should be able to do as a community big, great capital projects that really move the needle forward for our community," he told WVXU ahead of the reopening. "Every five or seven years we should be able to do a big project like this. We should be able to build new arenas, we should be able to build new bridges and do new infrastructure things."