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Mobius backs off reliance on leases

Leaders re-evaluating private development

Mobius Spokane was selected by city leaders in 2003 to develop a science center in large part because it agreed not to pursue government funding for its operations.

Part of the group’s plan was to develop part of its allocated parkland into space it could lease for a profit. Site plan sketches included office buildings. That plan was part of an agreement approved this summer by the Spokane Park Board.

But Mobius Spokane President Neil Worrall said Friday that lingering concerns on the Park Board, coupled with doubts within Mobius that private development is needed, makes Mobius open to tighter restrictions about development.

“We’re evaluating whether it still makes sense,” Worrall said.

In 2008, Mobius announced it would shrink its plans for the museum to 45,000 square feet. This year it also agreed to give up some of the land it originally planned to use. With less property, there’s little room for anything besides parking and the science center, Worrall said.

While an office with a parking garage could be considered, Worrall said investing in the creation of an endowment might provide a more reliable source of funds.

Park Board member Kimberly Morse, who voted against the Mobius contract in August, said most residents don’t know the current deal allows for private development on parkland.

“I’m not saying it’s wrong or it’s right, but will the citizens of Spokane be happy that we have given up a chunk of land to make money?” Morse said. “We’ve got to make sure that suddenly we’re not saying, ‘Oops.’ ”

Karl Hutterer, executive director of the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History, said it’s rare for museums to use private development for operating money.

“There’s some real positives and some real potential risk,” said Hutterer, former director of the Burke Museum at the University of Washington. “Museums are not necessarily good business managers. They may be very good managers for a nonprofit. But for-profit businesses are run very differently.”

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