The difficult journey for the Spokane science center took a decidedly positive turn this week when Avista Corp. offered to lease a brick building overlooking the Spokane River falls for $1 a year.
The quest for a science center began in 1995, when the Pacific Science Center offered to place a facility at Riverfront Park. But voters said no to that and other park changes. In 1999, voters approved a park bond that included land on the north bank of the river for a science center. But grand visions for a 115,000-square-foot facility were downsized, and then dashed when center advocates couldn’t raise the funds needed to meet a Park Board agreement.
At that point, the Mobius Science Center board decided on renovating an existing facility and moved into the former J.C. Penney/Burlington Coat Factory building across from Nordstrom’s on Main Avenue. But just one year after the 2012 grand opening, Mobius officials announced the center couldn’t afford to remain. A hoped-for government grant that would’ve picked up most of the lease costs fell through and attendance didn’t meet projections.
So the news that Avista is offering a building at a stunning location rent-free is exciting. If the deal goes through, a science center that was to be on the north bank will instead be on the south.
Yet to be decided is who pays for renovation of the annex to the Post Street Substation, but lifting the burden of meeting lease payments is significant. In 2012, Mobius paid $413,232 in rent to CPC Development Co., a subsidiary of Cowles Co., which also owns The Spokesman-Review. Anne Cowles, the wife of Spokesman-Review publisher Stacey Cowles, is a Mobius Science Center board member.
Avista’s gift comes on the heels of its renovation of Huntington Park, which straddles the lower falls of the Spokane River. The newly landscaped park has lawn, picnic areas and Native American-themed sculptures. It is integrated with The Gathering Place plaza, which Avista and the city of Spokane worked on to open up spectacular views of the falls.
Across the river from the plaza is the new addition to the Centennial Trail, which ducks under the Monroe Street Bridge and continues west along the Kendall Yards development. Across the street from the plaza is Riverfront Park, where exciting new upgrades are in the works, thanks to voters.
If the science center relocates to the Avista site, visitors will be treated to a memorable indoor/outdoor experience. It would become the can’t-miss field trip for students, where, among other lessons, they could learn about hydropower and the history of Spokane Falls.
Whether this becomes the final stop for the science center is uncertain. But if this site works out, then it’s a credit to advocates who refused to give up and to Avista Corp. for providing a permanent home.
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