Bible “Discovery Center” to Open on Independence Mall Next Year
Independence Mall is getting another tourist attraction.
On Wednesday the American Bible Society, along with local leaders, gathered to officially announce the Faith and Liberty Discovery Center. The 40,000-square-foot museum — with 25,000 square feet of exhibition space — is scheduled to open in fall 2018 in the Wells Fargo building at the northeast corner of 5th and Market streets.
“This location … places us between Independence Hall and the National Constitution Center,” said Roy Peterson, president/CEO of the American Bible Society. “It’s no accident that we decided to build this here in Philadelphia, a city founded by William Penn, whose belief in religious freedom landed him in prison before he had the ultimate opportunity to establish this city as a beacon for the world.”
The Bible Society moved its headquarters from New York City to Philadelphia two years ago. Peterson said the new museum, which will cost about $60 million to construct, will be privately funded. The Society sold its NYC headquarters for $300 million in 2015.
The American Bible Society says the attraction is expected to draw 250,000 visitors annually. The “immersive experience” of the Faith and Liberty Discovery Center is being developed by Local Projects, which recently did the much-praised 9/11 Memorial and Museum in Lower Manhattan. SaylorGregg, the Philadelphia-based architects that did such projects as the Franklin Institute expansion and the McNeil Avian Center at the Zoo, is doing the architectural design.
It is too early in the process for renderings to be made available, but Local Projects founder Jake Barton told Philadelphia magazine that renderings and more detail on possible exhibits could be available in as little as a few months.
“What we’re trying to do is make an experience that’s personalized but also universal,” Barton says. “Some of the sketch ideas that we’ve been playing with are that each visitor might get something like a lamp — something that allows them to both capture some of the quotes and inspirations from members of the past or from the Bible … and [makes them] able to essentially assemble inspirations that connect with them personally that they can then use going forward. We’re also interested in some immersive technologies, in particular in allowing people to understand that the streets of Philadelphia that we walk today literally have history encoded inside them.”
Per a release from the American Bible Society, the museum will cost $5.3 million to operate every year and will create $10.5 million in economic impact each year. It’ll create 60 permanent jobs, and 540 temporary construction jobs. Mayor Jim Kenney said he hoped it would become a destination.
“It really could be a world tourism attraction,” Kenney said. “Because there are so many faiths, so many ethnicities, so many experiences that are based in the Old Testament, I can see people from other countries really wanting to come here and experience this wonderful experience.”