Vote Leaves Fate Of Pavilion In Doubt Science Center Officials Won’t Try Again If Final Tally Ends In Defeat For Riverfront Park Project
If final vote tallies show the Pacific Science Center proposal a loser, there are no plans to come back for a second try.
“We’ll be done with building a new building here” in Spokane, Carole Grisham, associate director of the Seattle-based science center, said Wednesday.
“We’re sorry to close this project down, but that’s what’s going to happen” if the referendum fails, said Grisham, adding that the center remains “committed” to offering visiting science programs in Spokane.
A mere 196 votes are keeping the Pacific Science Center from its satellite home in Riverfront Park’s Pavilion.
As many as 4,000 to 5,000 absentee ballots remain uncounted, but “it’s unlikely” the tally will turn around, said Kate McCaslin, manager of the “Yes! Spokane Pacific Science Center” campaign.
That’s because absentee ballots counted Tuesday showed a wide gap between center supporters and opponents - with the nays far ahead.
“I think the difference will stay about 200 votes,” said McCaslin. “It was a loss for us, but it wasn’t a victory for them.”
If the referendum fails, “this is a lost opportunity for our children,” said Greg Tripp, chairman of the “Yes” campaign.
One Park Board member suggested the deteriorating Pavilion’s future could end with a wrecking ball.
“We’d be remiss in our duties to taxpayers if we didn’t at least consider that,” Park Board member Steve Clark said, adding that the board doesn’t have the money to renovate the building which was built as the U.S. Pavilion for the Expo ‘74 world’s fair.
Consequently, the Pavilion, which many consider the heart of Riverfront Park, faces an uncertain future.
The carnival rides are falling apart, Clark said. The Pavilion building needs maintenance that has been put off for years.
“The funds aren’t there,” he said. “There are a lot of beautiful old hotels the owners can no longer afford to maintain that have been wrecked.”
As science center supporters pondered what went wrong Tuesday, critics said they felt little if any victory thrill.
“I don’t take any pride in stopping something worthwhile,” said Steve Corker, who led the campaign to keep the science center out of the Pavilion. “People were attacking the process and the location.
“People were concerned.”
But no one seemed quite willing to call Tuesday’s election results a done deal.
“We’re not ready to throw in the towel,” Tripp said. “But on the other hand, I’m not overly optimistic.”
Tom Wilbur, county elections supervisor, said absentee ballots will stream in steadily over the next few days but won’t be counted until Sept. 28. Absentees had to be postmarked no later than Tuesday.
Sending the ballots through the computer takes coordination and planning, Wilbur said.
“It’s not an easy process,” he said. It takes time. To do it every day doesn’t make sense.”
No matter how close the vote, an automatic recount won’t be triggered, Wilbur said. Those occur only in close candidate elections, not issue elections.
City Council members approved a 20-year lease with the science center last March. But opponents gathered more than 12,000 signatures to push the issue onto the ballot.
The science center was a big winner in South Hill precincts, a big loser in northeast and northwest Spokane. Browne’s Addition and the Logan neighborhood gave the plan their blessing. West Central and East Central said a resounding “no.”
Several voters complained they had missed the Pacific Science Center issue on their ballots altogether, Wilbur said.
McCaslin said she doubts those votes would have made much difference.
“They probably would have been split,” she said.
McCaslin said it’s clear what ended the center’s four-year march to Spokane: misinformation.
“Opponents successfully created doubt and uncertainty about the cost,” she said. “They used every little thing they could.”
Corker also talked about “doubt” and “uncertainty” - but from a different angle.
“There was confusion about the cost issue,” he said. “It was the inability of the Park Board to deal with the issues raised about rides, restrooms and security space.”
Clark said he thinks the proposal for a science center in the Pavilion got bogged down in debates over where the rides might be relocated and what the center would cost taxpayers.
“That’s where we missed the point,” he said. “That’s the most valuable piece of real estate in the city. The Pavilion isn’t living up to its potential.”
The Pavilion’s failing condition caused the Park Board to seek a tenant, and the science center offered a perfect solution, Clark said.
“That was the best opportunity we had to do something,” he said. “That’s probably the best opportunity we will ever have.”
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color Photo