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HomeBreaking$89 Million Short: Milwaukee Public Museum Plans to Break Ground Despite Massive...

$89 Million Short: Milwaukee Public Museum Plans to Break Ground Despite Massive Shortfall


The Milwaukee Public Museum’s plan for a new $240 million home has been delayed until spring amid an $89 million shortfall in fundraising. However, the museum officials plan to break ground for the new building anyway despite the massive shortfall.

What’s unclear is where they will get the money if they break ground but donations never materialize.

That decision comes despite museum officials admitting in a memo to County supervisors that their “early community input indicated that this project could happen only if this was a public-private venture.” For months, private donations have lagged behind the public taxpayer money approved. In September, we reported that the museum was about $92 million short; almost five months later, the needle hasn’t moved much.

The museum’s plans to go full steam ahead and break ground without reaching its final fundraising goals raise new concerns because it’s generally more difficult to get the philanthropic community to donate money for a project that is already built or for debt undertaken to finish it. The museum has not explained where it will go for money if ground is broken and the private fundraising goals are never met.

The museum’s officials rolled out a new five-year staggered plan for fundraising after the donations lagged, and then claimed the fundraising is on target.

The latest fundraising problems were revealed in a report sent to Milwaukee County Supervisors on February 12.

The groundbreaking was originally planned for late last year. However, that was delayed after revelations that fundraising results have been significantly less than expected. This comes after a series of Wisconsin Right Now stories revealed the fuzzy math, misleading information about accreditation, DEI updates, and other issues with the new museum project, including the planned destruction of the beloved European Village exhibit and historic murals.

As Wisconsin Right Now has previously reported, the project will cost $240 million, which includes $45 million from Milwaukee County taxpayers, $40 million from State of Wisconsin taxpayers, $5 million in federal funding, and $150 million in private donations.

However, the $5 million in federal funding has not been secured still, and only $66 million of the $150 million in needed private donations has been raised as of December, the report says.

That leaves a shortfall of $89 million. That shortfall hasn’t budged much.

The museum, in its report, says it has been engaged in a private capital campaign since July of 2022.

This has not stopped the museum from plowing full-speed ahead.

The museum is planning groundbreaking for this spring and in its report said that in the last month, “Staff started to pack the glass and ceramic collections in preparation for a move. Staff continue to inventory and bar code the collections in advance of packing. Staff have also begun a search for an offsite storage facility. And a collections plan for high-density storage for both on-site and off-site storage has been completed.”

The museum says it plans to secure “most of the funds for construction” before groundbreaking, set for this spring. The museum’s staggered roll out is now:
“Principal Gifts Phase (through 12/2022), Leadership Gifts Phase (1/2023 through Groundbreaking), Major Gifts Phase (Groundbreaking through 12/2025), Community Phase (Final year before opening).”

It is unclear how the project will be funded if those funds are not secured.

The museum plan to update the board on fundraising totals in its next committee meeting.

Read the full report here:

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