Mulva Cultural Center aims to be a Midwest beacon for creativity
BY LEE REINSCH
DE PERE—October in Wisconsin is usually the time of year to batten down the hatches and put the storm windows on.
This mid- to late- October, at the juncture of Broadway and Main Avenue, the glass panels will be hung at the future Mulva Cultural Center.
The 75,000-square-foot facility, which aims to be “a leading institution for civic and creative engagement in the Midwest,” is more than halfway to the finishing mark.
“The project is on time and on budget,” said Mike Van Asten, who is CEO of the Mulva Cultural Center.
The $95 million facility, which broke ground in August of 2021, is slated to open next summer.
“Right now, crews are applying the stone elements onto the facade,” he said.
Drawing from the natural environment — the river and the rocks that are right outside its windows near the east bank of the Fox River — the building’s palette will consist of stone, wood timbers, lots of glass and neutral metals.
Once the great windows are put on and the building sealed from the outdoor elements, finish work can begin on the interior.
That’s when the fun can begin.
Van Asten had just finished choosing equipment for the kitchen and was in the process of reviewing furniture options.
“The organization staffing chart has been completed so I am in the process of hiring the leadership team,” he said. “No surprise, I am pulled in many directions.”
Lantern on the river
The pinnacle of all of this preparation will occur once the construction crews go home and the lights go on.
The structure will be lit from within, bringing to mind “a lantern on the river.”
Founders and philanthropists James and Miriam Mulva want this two-story beacon to be a fixture in the community, enlightening in more than one way.
They would like to see educational programs for young and old held in the classrooms and gathering spaces, documentaries shown in the 200-seat theater/auditorium and an ever-changing array of art shows and photography exhibits highlighted in the gallery.
“The programming, from traveling exhibits to art/photography shows to documentaries for the theater is critical to the success of the center,” Van Asten said.
When the Mulvas announced their intention to commit to gifting the city with a cultural center three years ago, James Mulva said the fact that they had hired an architecture firm such as SOM (Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, LLP of Chicago) showed “how significant this project is for the city of De Pere and the people of Northeast Wisconsin, and underscores our family’s longstanding commitment to enhancing the community my wife Miriam and I have known and loved since our childhood.”
Mulva called bringing the addition to the heart of historic downtown De Pere a grand plan that was part of De Pere’s new cultural district master plan.
He said they were “honored and thrilled” to partner with the firm on the project.
The entry to the Mulva Cultural Center will lead into an open glass atrium, which will make the most of the outdoors during daylight, while drawing the guest in.
A specialty restaurant on the first floor will be open six days a week, and next to that, a sizable gift shop.
Visitors will be able to grab a coffee in the center’s cafe, and if the weather is nice, take it outdoors to the terrace viewing deck overlooking the river.
Luckily, there haven’t been any major or unpleasant surprises to date, Van Asten said.
“SOM is a detail-oriented architectural firm; Mortenson (construction firm M. A. Mortenson Company of Minneapolis) has built projects of this scale before,” Van Asten said.
Another project on the to-do list is working to become accredited with the American Alliance of Museums, a national organization that has been around since 1906 and holds member museums to a set of quality standards and ethics.
Van Asten served as chair of development and executive board member of the Milwaukee Public Museum and is chair of the board of trustees for Bellin College.
He founded Incredible Edibles, the parent company of Liberty Banquet Hall and Conference Center in Kimberly in 1981, so he has proven his mettle in hospitality and catering.
He is also a board member for the Fox Cities Convention & Visitors Bureau and an alum of St. Norbert College, where he majored in economics and business administration.
“It’s great to see the momentum in De Pere,” Van Asten said. “I am honored to be a part of the growth in downtown.”