I never went to the YouZeum.
I always considered bringing my godson there, but he won't be old enough to enjoy it for a few years still, and I, personally, am not particularly drawn to talking vending machines and fake babies telling me about parenthood.
But, I have thought a lot about things I would enjoy that could go into that building instead.
1. An indoor water park. Especially these days, when I'm covered in sweat once I walk outside and my glasses fog up when I open my car door, I would trade a Klondike Bar for a couple of water slides and a wave pool, and I hear there's nothing people wouldn't do for one of those. And then, in the winter, it's still fun and you won't risk hypothermia. In fact, keep the exhibits, but run a lazy river around them. Adding a couple dollars to the price would take it from, "That's a bit steep for a museum" to "Water slides! Hurray!"
2. An ice rink. When I have the urge to ice skate, I don't want to drive 20 minutes to Jefferson City. Not having an ice skating rink is severely limiting my chances of becoming the next Johnny Weir, which is my backup plan to journalism. Also, there are youth ice hockey leagues waiting to be started. And, of course, the most exciting ice sport — curling.
If MU bought the building, it could turn the main level into a regular rink for the ice hockey club team. The simulated ER in the lower level could become a real ER but also on ice. Hospital rooms usually feel like the thermostat is set to freezing, and I'd trust a surgeon willing to operate on skates with "Bolero" playing in the background. To keep the educational aspect, strap blades on the YouZeum's extremely buff vegetable superheroes and find a word that rhymes with phytochemical, and you'll have a show.
3. Railroad museum. That sounds boring, but the Columbia Convention and Visitors Bureau could buy the building and transform it into an attraction to complement the Columbia Star Dinner Train expected to start service this year. Because the train won't be based downtown, advertising a related museum or something with "historic" in front of it could bring tourists who ride the train to shops and restaurants.
4. A kitten cafe. It is what it sounds like. Unless you were thinking it sounds like a Starbucks for kittens. Or if you were thinking it sounds like a restaurant with kittens as the meal. If you think it sounds like the best place in the world, though, you are correct. You pay an entry fee and then pet kittens and enjoy a beverage or food. You can buy catnip or other treats to feed to the cats. You can take pictures with your favorite calico. You run the risk of overdosing on cuteness, but that is a risk I would be willing to take.
Recently, the Central Missouri Humane Society and Columbia Second Chance threw a Kitten-palooza, selling discount kittens. A Kirksville-based organization, Field of Dreams Rescue, also held an adoption drive for dogs and cats. There is obviously a surplus of furry, lovable animals with no homes and a lot of people who can't house or afford to keep pets. For the sneezing-inclined, it could serve some allergy-strength aspirin with your coffee instead of espresso shots.
5. The YouZeum. One of my favorite places on earth is COSI, a similar interactive science museum in Columbus, Ohio. The YouZeum is a good idea, it just needs some work. With tickets at $5 to $8 each, a family pays for an outing, not a time-killer on a random Saturday. I would assume most students in Columbia have been there at least once on a field trip, so they don't want to see the same exhibits again, even without a worksheet to fill out or an essay assignment. A discount Sunday program or rotating special exhibits could attract less reluctant kids and more enthusiastic parents.
The YouZeum could also sponsor off-site events for free, such as activity days in the park. There are a lot of kids in Columbia who would benefit from learning more about fruits and vegetables whose families can't afford summer camps or membership fees. Although that wouldn't make the museum more money, it would bring publicity and encourage other families to visit.
Columbia College has expressed interest in buying the building, but if that doesn't happen, a few brave residents could bring the Midwest its first kitten cafe.
The YouZeum seems like a wonderful place, but it couldn't find a practical business model to stay open. The spot is perfect to bring Columbia residents downtown for something other than shopping, eating or the occasional festival. It is also near all those things for tourists to take advantage of when visiting whatever goes into the building.
Maybe some of these ideas are not quite feasible, but maybe it will take some silly ideas to find something that sticks.
Molly Harbarger is an assistant city editor at the Columbia Missourian and has lots of thoughts.