Las Vegas Sun

December 21, 2014

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HENDERSON CITY COUNCIL:

Vote to spend millions on museum expected Tuesday

The Henderson City Council, which has had to trim the ranks of employees and dip into its reserves to make ends meet, will decide Tuesday whether to spend as much as $25.4 million on the planned Henderson Space and Science Center.

However — before fiscally conservative residents get the pitchforks — it must be noted that the money would come from a city fund that cannot be used for operations or payroll.

The money would come from a “land fund” filled with the city’s profit from selling real estate. The money can be used only to buy property, make infrastructure improvements, build capital projects and create long-term master plans.

Much of the $25.4 million in the fund — including proceeds from the sale of land along St. Rose Parkway that’s now home to Cashman Equipment — has been earmarked for the museum project.

The council will vote to transfer the money to a nonprofit organization that the city formed to oversee the design and construction of the museum.

No council members have expressed serious reservations about building the museum.

The vote comes at the last meeting for Mayor James Gibson and Councilman Jack Clark, two of the museum’s biggest supporters. Both must step down because of term limits.

The council could decide to transfer only part of the fund.

Councilman Andy Hafen doesn’t want the city losing control of millions of dollars.

“I think the elected officials really need to have more of a say over the funds of the city,” said Hafen, the mayor-elect. “I’m afraid it gets transferred and we give up the oversight.”

Hafen said he’ll raise that issue Tuesday.

If the nonprofit were not to begin construction of the museum in the next seven years, the money would revert to the city.

The council would get quarterly updates on the fund and the money could be used only for construction, furnishings and equipment.

Henderson plans to spend $61 million to build the science museum on a 150-acre city-owned site along the east side of U.S. 95, between Sunset and Russell roads.

The museum would be part of a mixed-use development that could include other museums, retail stores and condominiums.

The total cost of the development could be $250 million. However, the only city-funded project would be the museum.

The museum project is being launched even as the city faces a $50 million budget shortfall caused by falling sales and property taxes. But supporters of the project say now is a perfect time to plan, so construction can begin when the region pulls out of the recession.

The city is working on creating a master plan for the site adjacent to Central Christian Church.

The council appointed a nine-member board in March to oversee a nonprofit foundation given responsibility for design and construction of the project.

The board includes elected officials, UNLV professors and city staffers.

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