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September 23, 2014

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Henderson leaders agree on science center — except where to build

Original proposed site

Second possible museum site

While the Henderson City Council and the advisory board it appointed generally agree on the city’s goal to build a space and science center, a rift is forming over where it should be built.

From the proposal’s earliest stages, the plan has been to build it on a 160-acre former gravel pit that is now owned by the city, located north of Galleria Road and east of U.S. 95.

The City Council, however, has commissioned an outside market study to look at the viability of a second site, on the northwest corner of Lake Mead Parkway and Water Street, within the new Lake Mead Crossing development. The study’s results are expected back in the first week of October.

Councilwoman Kathleen Boutin, whose ward includes the Galleria site, said Council members wanted to look at other options because of the estimated cost that will be necessary to restore the former gravel pit to developable standards.

“The reason some of us are not so crazy about doing this is because we have an estimate of $8 million just to prepare the land,” Boutin said. “Why would we spend that kind of money when we have 400 other pieces of city-owned land that we can look at?”

Though the city does not own the land at Lake Mead Parkway and Water Street, Boutin and others say it would be less expensive to acquire that land than to prepare the land it already owns on Galleria.

The difference between the two sites essentially boils down to one issue: The 160-acre Galleria site would support a campus, while the Lake Mead site would accommodate a single building. The advisory board’s vision has been to use the 160-acre site to create a campus that could be home to several cultural attractions and parks at its core, then sell off the remaining land to private developers for retail, commercial and residential development.

That plan, board members argue, would allow the city to recoup any investment it makes in preparing the site and building the space and science center while providing a healthy return.

The market study of the second site created a division within the City Council, where Mayor Andy Hafen said he couldn’t support the study’s $50,000 price tag and the remaining four members voted in favor of it.

“At $50,000, I’m not willing to look at this,” Hafen said.

Councilman Steve Kirk passionately defended the study, arguing that the city’s proposal to build a space and science center is too big to get wrong.

“We know that if we make a mistake on this, it’s going to cost us a lot more than $50,000,” he said. “$50,000 is a small amount to spend on something as significant as a space and science center. We’ll spend $50,000 on an internal community development study and not bat an eye, so I don’t understand why we’re so concerned when it’s a project of this significance.”

Former Henderson Mayor James B. Gibson, who chairs the advisory board, said he believes the Galleria site is best suited to the space and science center proposal, but is open to looking at other sites.

“We are supportive of doing an analysis that would allow us to protect against a mistake either way,” Gibson said. “… We just think that it’s important that if there is a consideration of alternate sites, that there be a thorough analysis.”

Others are more resistant to the idea of examining other sites. Former City Councilman Jack Clark, who also sits on the advisory board, said the purpose of the Galleria site is to allow for the additional cultural attractions, stores, businesses and homes that would create a critical mass to support the space and science center. Without that critical mass, Clark said the center’s outlook would be dim.

“All of our studies have shown that, standing alone, the chances of success for our center are pretty slim,” Clark said.

Clark also said the Galleria site, which is next to the new Galleria interchange at U.S. 95, offers better traffic circulation than the Lake Mead site.

Many of the details that would go into making a decision between the two sites, however, have yet to solidify. In addition to the market study, the city is waiting on an internal traffic study to examine the impact that the space and science center would have if built at Lake Mead and Water Street.

City engineers are also surveying and examining the Galleria site to determine how much work the land would need in order to be developable. Work on those studies slowed while the city was considering the market study, but has resumed.

Boutin said she believes the Galleria site will ultimately be too expensive to prepare for development, and the city will be forced to choose another site.

“If that Lake Mead and Water Street site doesn’t work out, I’m going to request a look at a third site,” she said.

Boutin said she’s not convinced that the mixed-use development approach would boost the space and science center’s chances for survival, pointing at other mixed-use developments in the city that have struggled.

In addition, she said she also questions the city’s survey that found that residents desired a museum -- which was the primary impetus for the space and science center undertaking -- saying the economic climate has changed priorities. She said she would like to revisit the question with residents before moving forward on the plan.

“What harm does it do to go back to the taxpayers and say, ‘Do you really want this?’ If so, we need to look at the options to make sure that it goes in the right place,” Boutin said.

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