Are dinosaurs just the beginning?

Dave Ghose

Columbus civic leaders say a new partnership between COSI and the American Museum of Natural History could attract more high-profile cultural institutions to the reimagined Scioto Peninsula. "I think this is just the beginning of the beginning," says Columbus Downtown Development Corporation CEO Guy Worley, whose organization is spearheading the redevelopment of the area in east Franklinton.

L Brands founder Les Wexner and his wife, Abigail, have been the key figures in the transformation of the Scioto Peninsula, which includes COSI and the new Ohio Veterans and Memorial Museum (scheduled to open in 2017). A $2 million donation from the couple, along with a $5 million investment from the state of Ohio, made the new American Museum of Natural History partnership possible. The Wexners also gave $25 million for the construction of the new Vets.

In an interview with Columbus Monthly late last year, the Wexners revealed that negotiations were underway to bring satellites of both the American Museum of Natural History (one of the largest museums in the world) and the Smithsonian (the world's largest museum and research complex) to the Scioto Peninsula. Bureaucratic challenges have made the Smithsonian deal more challenging to nail down, but Les Wexner says it still remains a possibility. He also says city leaders have talked to the Ohio History Connection about establishing a presence on the peninsula and suggests other possible partners could include the Museum of Modern Art in New York and the Royal Shakespeare Company in the U.K., which already has a strong relationship with Ohio State University. "We're a compelling partner for any national or international organization," he says.

"We want this to be a true cultural destination, similar to what they have in Chicago with the Cultural Mile," adds Worley. "This is our version of that, if you will."

On Friday, Wexner, Worley and other community leaders-including Columbus Mayor Andy Ginther and Ohio Speaker of the House Cliff Rosenberger-announced the Natural History Museum partnership at a glitzy press conference in COSI, which culminated with the unveiling of life-sized cast models of a Tyrannosaurus rex and a stegosaurus. The Natural History Museum will feature its installations in two new spaces in COSI: a dinosaur gallery (set to open in the fall of 2017) and a rotating exhibitions gallery (scheduled to debut in February 2018). The two new galleries will occupy 22,000 square feet on the south side of the science center.

Ellen Futter, president of the Museum of Natural History , says the partnership marks the first time her organization has co-located in a science center. "COSI is a superb institution," she says. "If you're thinking about a science center, this is the kind of institution you want."

(Photo Fred Squillante)