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by Sheri Boggs

Let us be among the first to announce it: The official grand opening of the MAC will be Wednesday, Dec. 5, 2001! And here in the Inland Northwest, we can't wait. The museum began the renovation process in June, 1999, making way for 43,300 square feet of new space and a $28 million capital expansion project.

"Needless to say, it's been a very busy two years," says Jane Johnson, the MAC's CEO. "We haven't stopped running."

At the end of the race lies eight acres of park grounds with nature trails throughout, a new exhibition space with five galleries, a three-level parking garage, an outdoor amphitheater, a caf & eacute;, a museum store, and, of course, the Campbell House and the Cheney Cowles Museum, which will house the museum's administrative offices and the research library/archives. When the museum opens in December, it will be one more reason for people to look to Spokane as a Northwest mecca of culture. We're not kidding.

"I believe that the people of this community and this region are going to be amazed when they see the new facility," says Johnson. "Not only is it going to be just remarkable in size and appearance, but it's going to be a real boon for the area. First, it's the only major museum within a 200-mile radius. Second, it's going to be a destination center, particularly with our Native American collection, which we're very fortunate to be entrusted with the keeping of. And finally, it's going to be a tremendous economic asset. Our projections show that we will have 150,000 visitors in the first year, and when you look at the things that bring big business and high-tech into a community, one of the first things that they tell us they look for is what the city has in the way of cultural amenities."

Beginning this summer, the museum will move back to the new site in phases. While ArtFest will once again be held in Coeur d'Alene Park in Browne's Addition, June and July have been earmarked as moving days for the staff, who will be returning to the newly renovated Cheney Cowles Museum building. Later this summer is when an independent consultant will come in and test all the museum's equipment and systems, both new and original. The first exhibits will be installed in early September, including "The Davenport Hotel," "Social Landscapes: Jim Lavadour, Jim Hodges and Robert Adams," "People of the Rivers: Lifeways of the Northern Plateau" and "Home Towns: Heart of the Inland Northwest," an exhibit developed in collaboration with more than 40 historical societies in the local region.

While the grand opening festivities will last through Dec. 9, the Museum will launch off with a grand opening party Johnson calls "our holiday gift back to the community.

"It's our way of saying 'thank you' to the community and welcoming them to their new museum."

Riverfront Eats @ Riverfront Park

Tuesdays, 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Continues through Aug. 20
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