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Ground broken for Mulva Cultural Center

By Lee Reinsch

DE PERE – In two years, the glass doors of the Mulva Cultural Center in downtown De Pere will open to welcome the first visitors inside the long-awaited facility.

Another chapter of the project began Aug. 11 when the team involved with making it a reality officially broke ground.

The center has grown in price from $60 million to $95 million.

It will be a glass, limestone and timber structure situated on De Pere’s near east side, south of the Claude Allouez bridge and north of the De Pere City Hall building, close to where the former Notre Dame Middle School stood.

The project is expected to take two years, with Mortenson as general contractor.

Mayor James Boyd called it an “incredible gift” to the community.

“A cultural center of this magnitude would be impossible for us without the Mulvas’ generosity and support,” Boyd said.

It’s been a long time coming, made a year longer by the pandemic.

Philanthropists Miriam and James Mulva began talking with the city of De Pere in 2015, with originally $7 million in mind.

In 2019, they announced plans for a $50 million facility designed by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill.

The pandemic, rising costs and other factors hiked the expected price tag to $95 million.

“For years, we could only dream of something like this,” Boyd said. “Today, construction starts on an incredible facility known as the Mulva Cultural Center.”

The 77,436-square-foot cultural center will be three stories, with a performance space, an auditorium that will seat 200 and feature LED screens, classrooms, a 300-person event space, sitting areas, gift shop, cafe, outdoor courtyard, viewing decks and more.

James Mulva said the cultural center will offer an array of traveling exhibits from around the country and world of the caliber they’ve seen in Chicago, New York and London, and the changing offerings will keep things fresh for visitors.

“People will come to see the beautiful building first and they’ll want to keep coming back,” James Mulva said.

He said one priority for the construction process is to be as minimally disruptive to the community as possible.

“Of course, the most important thing is that we stress safety, safety for the contractors, subcontractors, and all of the people from the community who live nearby,” James Mulva said.

He thanked the De Pere Common Council, downtown and other community leaders, as well as church leaders, for their roles in making the process go smoothly.

He said he and the team would keep lines of communication open with regard to the project’s progress.

Boyd thanked city staff, the Mulva Cultural Center/De Pere Cultural Center board of directors, and former De Pere mayor, Mike Walsh.

“This will be the envy of Northeast Wisconsin, the State of Wisconsin, and I really think the entire country,” Boyd said.

The 85-year-old design firm Skidmore, Owings & Merrill has done projects around the world, including the former Sears Tower (Chicago), One World Trade Center (New York City); The Strand, American Conservatory Theater (San Francisco); and the U.S. Embassy in Beijing.

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