The Strong opens to the public after unveiling expansions

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ROCHESTER, N.Y. — The Strong National Museum of Play is open to the public after unveiling its massive 90,000-square-foot expansion on Friday.

Gov. Kathy Hochul and Steve Dubnik, president of The Strong, cut the ribbon on the $75 million renovation project at 10 a.m. The renovations feature new interactive exhibits and a new home for the World Video Game Hall of Fame. The exhibits aim to connect guests with how toys and video games have shaped society.

The museum opened at 1 p.m. Dubnik said it’s a special day for the Rochester region and the entire toy and video game industry.

“Together, we created a unique destination unlike anything in the world with an expanded museum at its heart,” he said. “From a sunken highway that ran through the museum’s backyard and with the support of New York State, we’ve created an epicenter for celebrating and studying play.

The Strong has been gradually expanding since it was founded in 1968. Now, its considered one of the largest history museums in the U.S. One new exhibit is the outdoors Hasbro Game Park, which features 17,000 square feet of larger-than-life games near the old entrance. The exhibit includes a 20-foot-tall dragon outdoors that breathes fire and water. Guests can press a glowing button to activate the five-headed dragon.

Another addition is Level Up, which includes a life-sized video game where players can create an avatar of themselves as the main character. The new exhibit High Score will also detail the history of video games and includes a replica of the first video game ever created. Some of the games on display include Centipede, Super Mario Brothers, and Pong.

One of the smaller but high-tech additions to The Strong is an augmented reality butterfly experience. It starts in the physical world, with custom-made 3D-printed butterflies hanging from the ceiling. They even light up, thanks to OLED technology supplied by a local company.

To bring them to life, museum-goers can scan a QR code on the ground. With a little help from an augmented reality app, visitors will suddenly find themselves in a virtual butterfly garden. On the ground, colorful circles list the names of families and groups that have adopted these digital critters. Tapping on the bubbles lets visitors see that specific butterfly, which will then soar around the lobby.

The Strong’s annual attendance is expected to increase from 600,000 to nearly 1 million visitors a year with the expansion. Hochul said The Strong’s innovation will draw tourists to the Finger Lakes region.

“This ribbon-cutting marks the start of a new chapter at The Strong National Museum of Play, one of the region’s biggest tourist attractions and the engine behind our continued efforts to further revitalize downtown Rochester,” Hochul said.

The Strong’s expansion is the driving force behind the Neighborhood of Play, a vibrant, walkable neighborhood that’s being developed around the museum. The neighborhood is expected to bring in $130 million in annual tourism revenue to Rochester.

The neighborhood will have housing and businesses operated by Konar Properties. It will also include a family-friendly hotel and a colorful parking garage.

You can watch the ribbon cutting and Hochul’s speech here:

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