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by Joel Smith & r & & r & & lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & T & lt;/span & he idea for a science center in downtown Spokane seemed doomed. But it got new life earlier this month when the Spokane Parks Board unanimously approved a business and capital campaign plan that could see the center opening by November 2010. Now the center's backers just have to figure out what it's going to look like.


Early conceptual designs for the science center, to be constructed on the north bank of the Spokane River across from Riverfront Park, showed a bustling campus with a massive, 100,000-square-foot science center flanked by carnival rides, ice and roller rinks, an IMAX theater and a host of new office and retail buildings. Now it appears that some of that was a pipe dream.


Mobius, the local nonprofit tapped by the Park Board to develop and operate the science center, was "throwing the dart at the dart board" when it came to the size of the facility, says Gage Stromberg, the group's executive director. "It wasn't a solid number."


The plan approved by the Parks Board on May 11 includes a much smaller -- but, Mobius says, more doable -- science center and proposes giving back to the Parks Board 1.2 acres it's not going to use. At around 55,000 square feet, the sleeker center would be comparable to similar, successful operations in Albuquerque, Wichita and Harrisburg, Pa. A representative from Mobius has visited each of those centers over the last several years to study their receipts and business plans, and to figure out how their communities utilize them.


Stromberg says all three cities have demographics -- populations, income levels, education levels, percentages of people under 18 -- similar to Spokane's. Mobius projects that, when paired with a new 3D IMAX theater, the center in Spokane (to be called Mobius at Michael Anderson Plaza), will net a comparable 150,000 visitors a year and will make a profit of about $150,000 by its fifth year.


That still doesn't give a clear picture of what the pared-down center will look like, though, or what kinds of features it will offer. That's because nobody really knows yet. Mobius met with architects on Tuesday, the first time since the business plan was approved. So far, Stromberg can only offer vague descriptions of the building's design. "[We want] something interesting and appropriate for the north bank," he says, "that uses sustainable building design and materials, because we want the building to say something about science as well as the exhibits inside."


The plan also doesn't get overly specific about where they're going to get the money to build it. In 1999, the project got $5.7 million in bond money from Spokane voters to purchase the site, a former dairy. Mobius has also won $1.5 million from the state legislature, and they plan to ask for another $6.5 million soon. The rest of the $33 million price tag they hope to make up with grants from the federal government and national and regional foundations, as well as from donations by companies and individuals.


The plan includes an agreement that the Parks Board could pull Mobius' lease on the property if the group doesn't meet certain fund-raising goals at predetermined intervals. (Construction won't begin until 80 percent of the funds have been committed.)


Stromberg hopes it won't get to that, and he points to the success of downtown's Mobius Kids museum, which, in its first eight months of operation, has exceeded many of the organization's own expectations.


"Our goals with Mobius Kids were two-fold: to provide the educational and interactive environment to the target market of toddlers to 10-year-olds and to provide a base of support for Mobius at Michael Anderson Center," says Stromberg. "I think we have achieved these goals and are looking forward to our next challenge of raising the money for and designing a regional science center."
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