CHRISTIANSBURG, Va. – Wonder Universe, a children's museum, had a lot to show off Wednesday night.
The former Children's Museum of Blacksburg has a new name and a new space at the New River Valley Mall. The face of the mall continues to change, and its newest tenant is excited to be there. The nonprofit plans to transform an empty store space and the adjacent food court into a place children will never want to leave.
To help build support, a vintage fire engine was parked out in front of the mall for kids to climb on and adventure within. It was a big hint of what's to come.
"We live in the New River Valley, I have two kids and we've been attending the museum since they opened. We really love the concept," mom Kim Steika said.
Steika brought her kids to check out Wonder Universe's future digs. The re-brand is part of an expansive growth strategy bringing more accessible childhood education and playtime to the area.
"There are more than 10,000 children birth to age five in our community, and about 7,000 of those kiddos don't have an early childhood development or education placement," Executive Director Sarah Hanks said.
The fire engine will be a centerpiece in the new space, flanked by a number of other interactive exhibits. It's about a million-dollar undertaking and the museum is a big benefactor of Wednesday's Give Big New River Valley fundraiser among other donations. The open house corresponded with the Give Big day as a reminder for people to see exactly what they can support.
"Taking an opportunity like Give Big to get the word out and really raise the profile of Wonder Universe, so that they can talk to more people about how important it is to contribute and make this new space a reality is huge," said Jessica Wirgau, with Community Foundation of the New River Valley.
The nonprofit is tripling its footprint in the new space. The old store will be transformed into a kid kingdom, and it will expand into the now vacant food court too.
"It gives us a chance to age up, so while our previous space really focused on a birth to five demographic, this gives us an opportunity to serve kids we hope through age eight, nine, ten," Hanks said.
Wonder Universe hopes to be an economic driver for the community as well, providing an attractive entertainment opportunity for parents of young children considering jobs in the community. Other tenants in the mall also hope it will be good for them on a more local scale as they expect a serious uptick in foot traffic.
Families like Steika are excited to see their favorite place grow.
"I think it's a great thing for the New River Valley as a whole that they're moving. I think the space is great, I was saying I think they should have a fundraiser, shop and drop, where you can drop off your kids and shop," Steika said.
The new space is set to open this summer.