Jo Walker got the idea from her 9-year-old son, Jack.
"We're a military family, and we've lived around the country," she says, "and it eventually dawned on him that we didn't have a children's museum here. He figured every city would have one."
In 2005, the former civil engineer began researching just what it would take to establish a children's museum in Colorado Springs. Seven years later, she's leading a full-blown campaign aiming not only to build the Pikes Peak Children's Museum, but to do so in a signature, and notoriously challenging, downtown spot: adjacent to America the Beautiful Park.
In the past couple decades, ideas for an amphitheater, a convention center and a high-rise hotel in that area have come and gone. One very attractive location, says Walker, is the city-owned dirt strip east of the park next to the railroad tracks. It would provide three components common to most successful children's museums: proximity to green space, easy accessibility and ample parking. Fennell Group, the local architectural firm behind the Ivywild project, has prepared sketches of a museum at that site.
"It would be hard to find a better location than that," says Walker, who envisions a 40,000-square-foot, legitimate downtown anchor.
Though their business plan foresaw them securing a site this month, Walker says they haven't begun any negotiations with the city yet, and are still open to ideas.
"We want to be clear that we have no claim to the property," she says. "We'd be thrilled to be located anywhere around America the Beautiful Park."
Walker's research shows that among the nation's most populous cities, Colorado Springs is one of only eight without a children's museum. (Denver and even much-smaller Pueblo have ones.)
Last October, after being approached by Walker and her team, members of the Junior League of Colorado Springs, the civically minded women's organization, voted in favor of adopting the museum as their signature project. It'll provide dozens of volunteers for fundraising, public relations and more.
"A lot of our members have kids, so it's kind of a personal interest for them," says Junior League president Laura Dreher, who adds that as great as the city is, it's short on activities for kids — especially when it's cold. "Chapel Hills Mall is about it in the winter."
As the mother of a 2-year-old, she finds the idea of a safe place where children can burn off energy with educational, hands-on exhibits very appealing.
According to their business plan, organizers anticipate accommodating up to 250,000 visitors per year, and employing 35 full-time staffers, with another 15 to 30 part-time. Annual costs would run around $2.5 million, about $700,000 more than the museum would project in revenue. That shortfall would be covered by grants, gifts and endowments. The timeline is ambitious, with a hoped-for opening date of Dec. 31, 2015.
After years of starts and stops for ambitious projects around the park, Chuck Murphy, the local developer and construction company owner who has land on the north side of the Colorado Avenue bridge, is optimistic.
"This is a group of women who are extremely motivated and dedicated," he says of Walker and her four colleagues leading PPCM. "And I think that there's strong possibility that they're going to meet with some success.
"I'd bet on it happening."