MANKATO — Less than a decade ago, a multi-million-dollar children's museum in Mankato was just a dream of some local women committed to kids and early childhood education.
By Monday night, they'd received more than $2 million in donations, generated broad community and business support and secured state grants. All they really needed was a location, and that was such a foregone conclusion that Pam Willard — wearing her Children's Museum of Southern Minnesota shirt — was sitting alone at the Mankato City Council meeting.
Still, when the council voted unanimously to authorize a 50-year lease at $1 a year for the new museum, Willard was pumping her fists in the air.
"You never know until the last vote is in," said Willard, who wasn't taking anything for granted even though council members had indicated strong preliminary support at an April work session.
A member of the museum board of directors, she said she's been involved in the project "since Day 1" in 2006.
While the organization's need to raise funds continues, the donation of the city's soon to be vacated transit bus building on Lamm Street near the downtown Cub Foods store means the money will go toward renovation and exhibits rather than real estate.
"I've heard about this thing for 10 years. I never thought it would come to fruition," said Councilman Mark Frost, applauding the museum's founders and staff. "... An amazing job."
City Manager Pat Hentges ran through the lease agreement, which provides the sweetheart deal for the museum but allows the city to get the property back if the facility doesn't succeed. It assumes that $2.5 million in donated funds will be spent to renovate and equip the museum, that the non-profit will be responsible for all building operations and upkeep, that any liability falls on the organization and that the lease will be void if the facility ever stops operating as a children's museum.