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Art Museum Remodeling Part of a Larger Plan

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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa-The Cedar Rapids Museum of Art started remodeling the front of its building facing 3rd Avenue S.E. on Monday morning. But it's more than just sprucing up a single downtown structure. It's part of a plan to create a cultural hub in downtown Cedar Rapids linking the soon-to-open Cedar Rapids Library, the art museum and Greene Square Park into an enticing area.

Construction on what will be a total $1.7-million dollar renovation and rejuvenation at the art museum kicked off with a symbolic "whacking" at a wall and ramp structure that must come down first. Some museum staffers call it "the fortress." The huge access ramp stretching in front of the main museum building dates to the opening of the building in 1989 and was needed then as the only accessible entrances for the disabled. But a renovation in 2003 added a rear entrance with elevators to provide better access for those unable to climb stairs.

So the renovation project calls for tearing down the now unneeded entire front entrance ramp and replacing it with another large downtown plaza space. The museum plans to add benches, perhaps tables and even some outdoor public art to encourage users to sit and linger around the museum in nice weather. A second remodeling phase will redo the older Carnegie Library portion of the art museum and add a free children's activity center called Imagination Isle. Museum leaders hope to get visitors to come more often than just once or twice a year.

But the museum remodeling work is also part of a larger downtown renovation picture.

Interim director Sean Ulmer said both the museum and library boards have discussed tackling changes to Greene Square Park next. The idea would be to add a playground, more picnic areas and perhaps a pavilion to host park activities. Greene Square Park would then serves as an attractive gateway and entrance to both cultural facilities and serve to tie both together.

"We see this as a really wonderful moment for the city. With the library moving back to Greene Square Park...and both boards have been talking for years about what to do to improve Greene Square Park," Ulmer said.

Ulmer said the library, opening later this month, should bring a large number of new people to the area along 3rd and 4th Avenues S.E. And part of the idea behind the renovation is to get those new visitors interested in visiting the art museum as well.

One downtown worker, Lisa Wallerstedt, agreed a plaza where people could stop for lunch might also get them to spend more time in the museum itself.

"It'll be beneficial, you have people coming down to the library and people come down on the weekend with kids," she said.

The first phase of renovations, the outdoor plaza, should wrap up by November. Work inside the art museum should start this winter. The museum will remain open during regular hours while under constructions, but visitors may have to use different entrances based on the work.

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