Group off and running in $1.3 million campaign to build state-of-art facility in downtown Port
The Port Washington Historical Society kicked off its fundraising campaign this week, hoping to raise $1.3 million to create a state-of-the-art interactive museum in downtown Port.
“We’re off,” said Bill Moren, chairman of the museum advisory board. “We’ve got a long way to go, and it’s not going to be easy. It’s a challenge, and we have a very aggressive timetable.
“It’s never an easy thing to raise money. But this is such a transformational time in Port, and to be part of it is amazing.”
Melissa Suddendorf, who is heading the capital campaign, said the group is currently meeting with businesses, foundations and organizations in Port Washington and throughout the area to seek funds for the museum.
“We’ll speak to every group that will have us,” Moren said. “There’s nothing magical about a campaign like this. It’s all about capturing the hearts of people, getting their interest and getting people involved.”
Several events are being planned to raise money for the museum, including one in April, Suddendorf said, adding the group is also working to expand the membership of the Historical Society.
“We’re all pretty excited about the project,” she said.
“As a mother and a downtown business owner, I definitely see the need for the Port Exploreum. It will bring so much to our community.”
The Society plans to open the museum at 118 N. Franklin St. in September, and Suddendorf said they hope to reach their goal by that time.
Even if they don’t raise the full amount by then, the museum could still open since some of the money is earmarked for operating expenses during the first year, she said.
The society has already raised about $400,000 of its goal, Moren said. Historical Society members and the museum’s advisory board have pledged about $200,000, and an anonymous donor pledged $100,000.
The Huiras Foundation pledged $50,000, Duluth Trading Co. pledged $10,000 and We Energies has contributed $30,000 to the museum and to sponsor the Vern Biever exhibit — the first traveling exhibit that will be shown when the museum opens in fall, Moren said.
Even as the Society kicks off its fundraising efforts, work is progressing on the Port Exploreum, as it is being called.
Crews have largely gutted the former Businessman’s Club building and taken steps to protect the structure from the elements. Soon, changes will be made to the exterior and some structural work will be done inside.
When completed, the three-story museum will feature a lower level with an interactive, nautical-themed children’s museum designed to look like the deck of a three-masted schooner, complete with the captain’s wheel
and crow’s nest. A variety of interactive displays and exhibits will be used to teach children about the history and ecology of Lake Michigan and nautical life in Port Washington.
The upper floors will be home to revolving, interactive exhibits that will tell the story of the community.
The first traveling exhibit will be “The Man Behind the Camera: The Life and Work of Vernon Biever,” the story of the Port Washington businessman who was the Green Bay Packers’ first official photographer.
There will be spaces that can be rented for private parties, including a second-story deck shaped like the bow of a ship that will overlook the marina.
Moren said plans for the museum have been greeted with open arms by many organizations.
“Often the reaction I get is, ‘I can’t believe this is happening in Port Washington. This is amazing,’” he said.
The Society is garnering more than just financial support along the way, he said. For example, the group has been invited to sail aboard the Denis Sullivan this spring to film footage on Lake Michigan that will be used
in the children’s portion of the museum.