Spokane Journal of Business

Science center lease agreement said near

Park Board was expected to discuss tentative pact at its meeting this week

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Inland Northwest Science and Technology Center, the nonprofit citizens group that has proposed a $30 million-to-$40 million science-and-technology center on the north side of Riverfront Park, appears to be close to clearing an initial hurdle.

Chris Majer, the groups chairman, says the group has reached what he describes as a handshake agreement with a Spokane Park Board study committee on a crucial long-term lease of land in the park.

The tentative agreement, which calls for a 50-year lease term with two 25-year options, must be approved by the full Spokane Park Board and by the Spokane City Council. Majer says the tentative lease calls for essentially no rent to be paid. What the city would get, he says, is a $40 million science center, an improved north river bank, and the economic and tax benefits that would derive from the project.

The Park Board was expected to discuss the matter at its regular meeting Thursday, April 10. Majer says he doesnt anticipate any problems when the Park Board decides on the issue, since most of the boards members have been sitting in on the study committee meetings. He declines to predict how the City Council might vote, but notes that the proposed lease has gone through an extensive review process that began last fall.

The project has been in a holding pattern for the last several months pending the outcome of lease negotiations, he says. Once the lease is approved, we will move ahead to begin raising funds and building the community support it is going to take to make it happen. Over the next few months, we will be out talking to community groups, business groups, schools, and anyone who wants to hear about the project.

As envisioned, the science center would occupy part of a nine-acre site on the north side of the Spokane River, between Howard and Washington streets. It would be a west-facing fish-shaped structure, with a new 3-D Imax theater located at the buildings tail, and an outdoor amphitheater, solar-powered fountains, an open grassy area, and a beach.

It would be operated by Seattles Pacific Science Center and would offer a wide array of education-oriented exhibits focusing on technology and the natural world as experienced in Spokane. Its backers hope to see it also become the permanent home for a farmers market here, the permanent finish line for Bloomsday, and a focal point for many other such activities.

The citizens group plans to rely on corporate sponsors, other local fund raising, and state, federal, and private grants to pay for development of the science center. They contend the project wont be successful, though, unless they can use part of the site for development of commercial buildings to provide a revenue stream to help cover ongoing costs.

Under the tentative agreement, the citizens group will submit a detailed business plan to the Park Board outlining the financial viability of the project, and the Park Board will have the right to approve or deny the plan, Majer says. This was a big move of partnership on our part as the original suggestion was to have a third party review it, he says. Negotiations have focused heavily on what criteria the Park Board would use to reach a decision on the plan, he adds.

To ensure that the Park Board is kept informed and retains input on the project, two of its members would join the Inland Northwest Science and Technology Center board, Majer says. The citizens group would provide the Park Board with an annual audit of the project, and the city parks department would have the right to approve all tenants in the commercial buildings as a way to avoid uses that conflict with the overall theme of the science center project, he says.

Kim Crompton
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