KidsQuest Children’s Museum, which has outgrown its Factoria Mall location, just received the keys to the old doll-museum building in downtown Bellevue. The city pitched in $2 million for the location in an area where the population of young families is rising.
A new world of toys and play sets could be filling downtown Bellevue’s closed doll-art museum in a little over a year.
KidsQuest Children’s Museum, which has outgrown its Factoria Mall location since it opened in 2005, received the keys to the old museum’s $4.9 million building last week.
The 10,000-square-foot building will double the museum’s exhibit space and triple classroom space in a Bellevue neighborhood where the population of young families is growing by “leaps and bounds,” said Bellevue Mayor Claudia Balducci, who supported the City Council’s $2 million contribution to the purchase last year.
Census data show that since 2000, the median age in downtown Bellevue has dropped from 57 to 34.
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“I just think having a full range of people from young kids all the way up to seniors makes it a well-rounded and attractive place to be,” said Balducci, who used to take her son to the museum. “I’m glad to see that as opposed to one where it’s all offices and retail.”
The building’s former owner, Rosalie Whyel, could easily have sold the property at 1116 108th Ave. N.E. to a developer since the doll-art museum she founded and operated for 20 years closed in 2012 and never relocated.
But she wanted to keep the space devoted to children and families, said her daughter Shelley Helzer, who served as director at the doll museum.
“We wanted to keep art alive in the community, and when KidsQuest came to us, we realized it couldn’t have been a better matchup,” said Helzer.
KidsQuest’s Factoria Mall location sees about 180,000 people a year and sells about 4,500 annual memberships, according to Shelley Saunders, its director of advancement.
The museum’s exhibits, which can get especially crowded on weekends, are play sets that teach children about science, technology, engineering, art and math.
The new location will include more interactive exhibits, including a climbing structure, an indoor and outdoor water gallery, a transportation center with a truck and airplane, a create-a-city area and a pretend orchard inspired by Bellevue’s rural past.
Saunders said the new location will be perfect because it comes with plenty of parking, the public Ashwood Playfield park to the rear and three retirement communities nearby.
She said many of those residents are excited about volunteering or taking visiting grandchildren to the museum.
Companies including Microsoft, Expedia, KeyBank and Charlie’s Produce contributed to the $6 million KidsQuest has raised over the past two years.
Saunders said the museum will need $6.7 million more to open, but hopes the $4 million in grants they’ve already applied for comes through this year to cover most of the that.
Although the inside and outside of the building will be transformed by the time the museum opens, it will still have plenty of its former life represented inside.
In addition to setting aside a whole gallery space for some of Whyel’s doll collections, Whyel will be contributing a diorama of appropriately themed dolls and vintage items for most of the new museum’s exhibits.
Helzer said she, her mom, and other siblings will all be part of designing the rotating doll exhibits.
“When we had the museum, we all — my siblings, my kids — took part in planning and designing exhibits together,” Helzer said. “It really was a family business of ours and [KidsQuest] really embraced and appreciated that.”