Las Vegas Sun

November 20, 2014

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Space & Science Center preparing for blastoff

Fifteen years ago, Henderson Councilman Jack Clark had an epiphany.

“I knew some people whose children had visited a science museum and had gotten very interested in science,” said Clark, who has served on the council for 16 years. “But Southern Nevada was probably one of the largest metropolitan areas in the country that did not have a science center. We can’t diversify the economy, unless we diversify education, and we have taken great steps in Henderson to do that.”

What better way, he figured, to further that goal than to build a science center — with an educational focus — in the heart of Henderson?

A dozen years later, after a number of false starts, Clark’s vision is coming to fruition.

Plans are well under way for the Henderson Space & Science Center, which will be the centerpiece of a proposed museum and cultural district on a 160-acre site on Galleria Drive near U.S. 95.

“We’ve got the right combination of people on the city council, and Mayor Gibson has also been a driving force behind the project, which we have been working on for two-and-a-half or three years,” Clark said, adding that this included shopping for the site, mapping out the property and hiring consultants to evaluate the feasibility of the museum component.

The result of their research?

There was a real need in Southern Nevada for a science and technology center that also will serve to connect Southern Nevadans with their state’s singular history.

The Henderson city council clearly agreed, recently having voted unanimously to adopt a preliminary framework for the museum and the surrounding land, which is located in a Henderson redevelopment area. The city of Henderson, which owns the land, intends to develop the acreage into a civic hub that will also include retail, residential, office, entertainment, cultural and public uses, according to Eddie Dichter, Henderson’s principal planner. Dichter said that land use and zoning approval on the museum site is expected within the next three to five months. Design and landscaping guidelines are also in the works.

The focal point of Henderson’s proposed civic and cultural district, the Henderson Space & Science Center will include some 72,000 square feet of interior museum space, as well as an additional 40,000 square feet of programmable exterior space. The $61 million museum project, funded in great part by private-sector partnerships and other sponsorships, is expected to draw some 260,000 visitors per year, according to Andrea Primo, director of the city’s Cultural Arts & Tourism department.

“This would be a signature cultural institution,” Primo said. “The city council is very supportive of the arts in general, and there has been community and local industry support as well. The Henderson Space & Science Center will also strengthen the educational background of our local students, because the programs would be integrated and curriculum-based, meaning partnerships with the school district and higher education.”

Primo said a nonprofit entity is being established with a board of directors, and, once in place, time lines for construction of the museum will be nailed down. But Clark optimistically anticipates a five-year schedule for completion of the center, with additional build-out of the surrounding area following within three to five years.

In initially determining the focus of the museum, Clark said the city council considered several other areas of interest before settling on space and science.

“We looked at a natural history museum, a Nevada history museum and a children’s museum, but we always came back to where we started, with science and technology,” he said, adding that national research supported the decision. “Look at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum: They have (millions of) visitors per year. Not that we expect to compete with them, but I think people will be (pleasantly) surprised with us.”

Although Clark predicted the museum will attract visitors to the valley, Southern Nevada residents, particularly children, are the primary target demographic for the Henderson Space & Science Center.

“I think Henderson has always focused our efforts on family activities that don’t cost a fortune and also on those that (promote) new educational opportunities, and this does both,” he said. “The center will provide something for the first-grader and something for the college kid.”

The Henderson Space & Science Center, which is expected to create approximately 60 new jobs, will be an invaluable resource for teachers and professors throughout the valley and state. In addition, researchers and scientists will be able to showcase their work and research there.

With its educational emphasis on education and a kid-friendly, interactive atmosphere, Clark said the Henderson Space & Science Center will appeal to students — and adults — of all ages.

“It won’t be just a museum where you go in and walk around and look at stuff,” Clark said. “We want classroom settings and interactive exhibits. We researched tons of museums and found that the ones that are the most successful and have the most visitors are the ones that have the most hands-on activities, and they can’t be purely designed by adults. We will need a lot of input as we go forward, because the more excited the kids are, the more successful the center will be.”

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