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Explore & More Children’s Museum’s move to Canalside took a big step forward Wednesday when a state waterfront agency approved its master plan and feasibility study.

Plans call for the museum, which would target children up to age 12, to occupy two floors covering nearly 40,000 square feet, with administration on the third floor of a multistory building. There would be eight permanent exhibit spaces – including “Moving Water,” “Lighting Buffalo’s Imagination” and “Building Buffalo” – and another reserved for traveling exhibits.

The next hurdle for the East Aurora-based museum, which was selected to be a waterfront attraction by Erie Canal Harbor Development Corp. in 2012, is to raise $10 million. Administrators say they hope to open at Marine Drive and Main Street, on the southeast corner of the former Memorial Auditorium block, in 2016.

“This is a big milestone for us. This is a carefully planned dream come true,” said Jennifer Fee, the museum’s marketing director. “We’re just really excited that the time is right, and we’re all about rightsizing, sustainability and finding a resource that is wonderful for families in Western New York.”

Explore & More, which has organized activities at Canalside for the past two summers, found Buffalo was the only city of its size in the country without a children’s museum.

“I have to commend them for their progress to date,” said Robert Gioia, Erie Canal Harbor Development’s chairman. “That gives us great reason and excitement to see the finished product and move forward.

“I think everybody recognizes that a museum, and especially a children’s museum, will enhance the whole family atmosphere that we really want to try to portray on the waterfront, so there is something for everyone to do year-round.”

The waterfront agency would be responsible for building the shell of the building.

Multistory glass curtain walls and water activities focused on the Erie Canal would reference the Prime Slip that was once at the site.

The plans, developed by museum consultant Gyroscope, also call for outdoor terraces with views of the waterfront and downtown, a museum retail store and cafe-style restaurant.

Barbara Leggett, Explore & More’s executive director, said a “zero-based energy building” was desired to promote sustainability and energy savings.

The master plan projects annual attendance at 181,000, with the peak months of February, July and August.

The nonbinding memorandum of understanding approved Wednesday calls for meeting project-related milestones, including a building development schedule, fundraising requirements and a museum fundraising timeline.

Further board approval will be necessary before a binding agreement is reached.

email: msommer@buffnews.com