City Beat

Sacramento City Council approves financial boost for planned science center

The Powerhouse Science Center, a proposed science and environmental museum on the banks of the Sacramento River, received a big financial boost Tuesday night from the Sacramento City Council.

By a unanimous vote, the council agreed to dedicate $350,000 a year over the next 20 years to the construction of the first phase of the project north of downtown. That $7 million contribution will help the science center pay off a $25 million construction loan it is seeking from the California Infrastructure and Economic Development Bank.

Powerhouse officials said Tuesday that if the loan application is granted, construction on the museum could begin as early as September and be completed by early 2016.

The museum is planned for a mostly vacant plot of land adjacent to the city’s water intake structure, between Interstate 5 and the river. It is less than a half-mile from Old Sacramento and is envisioned as the northern anchor of a “museum row” that would include the California State Railroad Museum, a planned railroad technology museum in the downtown railyard and the Crocker Art Museum.

The first phase of the construction will result in a 37,000-square-foot museum – nearly four times the size of the facility it will replace, the Discovery Museum on Auburn Boulevard. It will include a domed planetarium, a hands-on space exploration simulator, classrooms and a nature center with live animals. A gallery of exhibits will focus on the state’s water supply, and the Sacramento Municipal Utility District is planning an outdoor garden that will promote renewable energy.

“We will be shaping the next generation of scientists and engineers,” said Ray Burnell, the museum’s executive director.

Michele Wong, president of the museum’s board, said the organization is “taking the existing programs that we have at the Discovery Science Museum and we’re blowing them up into something much bigger.”

“This will be a destination science center that is meant to be a hub for science education, exploration and innovation for the region,” she said.

With expanded learning and exhibit space, museum officials project 250,000 people will visit the facility each year.

In addition to the I-Bank funding, the Powerhouse center has more than $8 million in state and local grants and $2.2 million in private donations lined up for the construction work. The organization is also seeking $13.5 million in federal tax credits.

Museum officials have already received key building permits and other approvals needed to begin the work.

The city’s contribution is on top of $143,000 it gives to the museum each year for operational costs at the Discovery Museum. Those contributions will continue in the new location.

Sacramento County is also being asked to contribute to the project and the Board of Supervisors is scheduled today to vote on a resolution supporting the museum’s I-Bank application. So far, the county has not decided whether to help fund the project. County spokeswoman Chris Andis said, “We are definitely considering funding this project down the road, though the exact date or amount has not yet been determined.”

The funding approved by the city Tuesday comes from three sources. The largest pot – $200,000 – will come from a newly formed Economic Development Fund that is made up of property tax revenue that had been going to the city’s redevelopment agency. Redevelopment agencies were dissolved in 2011.

Wong said museum officials are exploring financing methods for the second phase of the project, which will involve the renovation of the former Pacific Gas and Electric power station at the site and the construction of a parking garage. Much of the funding for that phase would come from sponsorships.

“Once we have broken ground (on the first phase) and people see this is really happening, it’s going to be easier to close other exhibit sponsors,” she said.