Mulva Cultural Center aims to be a Midwest beacon for creativity


-October in Wisconsin is usually the time of year to batten down hatches and put up storm windows.

From mid-October to late October, at the junction of Broadway and Main Avenue, the glass panels will hang at the future Mulva Cultural Center.

The 75,000-square-foot facility, which aims to be “a premier 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 Mulva Cultural Center CEO Mike Van Asten.
The $95 million facility, which began in August 2021, is expected to open next summer.

“Right now the teams are applying the stone elements on the facade,” he said.

Drawing inspiration from the natural surroundings – the river and boulders that sit just outside its windows near the east bank of the Fox River – the building’s palette will consist of stone, timber, lots of glass and neutral metals.

Once the large windows have been installed and the building has been sealed off from the outside elements, the finishing work can begin inside.

That’s when the fun can begin.

Van Asten had just finished choosing the equipment for the kitchen and was considering furniture options.

“The staffing table for the organization is complete, so I am in the process of hiring the management team,” he said. “No surprise, I’m being pulled in many directions.”

Lantern on the river
The pinnacle of all this preparation will occur once the construction crews return home and the lights come on.

The structure will be lit from within, evoking “a lantern on the river”.

Founders and philanthropists James and Miriam Mulva want this two-story lighthouse to be a fixture of the community, illuminating in more ways than one.

Rising from the east bank of the Fox River at the intersection of Broadway and Main Avenue, the Mulva Cultural Center is on budget for completion next year. Photo courtesy of Leonard & Finco

They would love to see educational programs for young and old held in classrooms and gathering spaces, documentaries shown in the 200-seat theatre/auditorium, and an ever-changing range of art exhibits and exhibitions of photographs featured in the gallery.

“Programming, from traveling exhibitions to art/photography performances to documentaries for the theater, is critical to the center’s success,” Van Asten said.

When the Mulvas announced their intention to commit to providing the city with a cultural center three years ago, James Mulva said that having hired an architectural firm such as SOM (Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, LLP of Chicago) showed “how much this project means to the town of De Pere and the people of northeastern Wisconsin, and highlights our family’s longstanding commitment to improving the community that my wife Miriam and I know and love since our childhood.

Mulva called the addition of the addition to the historic downtown core of De Pere a grand plan that was part of the new De Pere Cultural District Master Plan.

He said they were “honoured and delighted” to partner with the company on the project.

What’s inside
The entrance to the Mulva Cultural Center will lead to an open glass atrium, which will make the most of the outdoors during the day, while attracting the guest.

A specialty restaurant on the first floor will be open six days a week, and next door, a large gift shop.
Visitors can have a coffee in the cafe in the center and, if the weather is nice, take it outside on the panoramic terrace overlooking the river.

Fortunately, there have been no major or unpleasant surprises so far, Van Asten said.

“SOM is a detail-oriented architecture firm; Mortenson (construction company MA Mortenson Company of Minneapolis) has built projects of this scale before,” Van Asten said.

Another project on the to-do list is to become accredited with the American Alliance of Museums, a national organization that has been around since 1906 and requires member museums to meet a set of quality and ethical standards.

Van Asten served as development chair and board member of the Milwaukee Public Museum and is chairman of the board of trustees at Bellin College.

He founded Incredible Edibles, the parent company of Liberty Banquet Hall and Conference Center in Kimberly in 1981, so he has a proven track record in the hotel and restaurant business.

He is also a board member of the Fox Cities Convention & Visitors Bureau and an alumnus of St. Norbert College, where he majored in economics and business administration.

“It’s great to see the momentum from De Pere,” said Van Asten. “I am honored to be part of the growth of downtown.”

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