The Spokane Park Board approved a 50-year contract Thursday with a group trying to put a science center on the north edge of Riverfront Park.
With little discussion and only one dissenting vote at its special 7 a.m. meeting, the board approved changes to a lease in an effort to keep alive a downtown project that’s been discussed in various forms for some 17 years. The contract allows Mobius Spokane, a nonprofit group formed four years ago by the union of the Inland Northwest Science and Technology Center and The Children’s Museum, to use the land for $1 a year, providing it builds the proposed attractions.
Mobius is proposing a $29.5 million complex that includes a science center, children’s museum and IMAX theater. The lease also requires Mobius to pay the city $12,500 each year for parking fees and 15 percent of any money earned on commercial property that may be developed on other parts of the site.
Anne Marie Axworthy of Mobius Spokane said the nonprofit group’s board must review the most recent changes before voting on the contract, which also needs the approval of the Spokane City Council.
“We’re very pleased to have an agreement in principle,” Axworthy said. “We’re committed to building a science center – if not at this location then somewhere else.”
Kim Morse, the sole dissenting vote on the Park Board, said she was concerned about Mobius’ ability to develop and sublet part of the 5.7-acre site as a way to raise money. Reaching an agreement on the contract has been long and contentious, which doesn’t bode well for a partnership that has to last 50 years, she added.
“I didn’t like the subleasing,” Morse said. “I’m not opposed to a science center.”
A science facility was first proposed for the Expo ’74 Pavilion area of Riverfront Park by the Pacific Science Center of Seattle in 1992. That plan couldn’t secure state money and later was rejected by voters. In 1999, however, voters approved a parks bond issue that included money to buy land north of Riverfront Park, and plans for a science center complex shifted to that land. Mobius has struggled to raise the money needed for the project, missing deadlines set by the Park Board in 2006. Last year the board began renegotiating the lease, originally drawn up in 2003 and revised in 2006.
In December, Mobius announced a slightly scaled-back plan, which dropped the estimated price tag from about $33 million to $29.5 million. Axworthy said the campaign has raised $11.3 million so far.