Funding Request For Planetarium Delayed For Second Time

Apr 17, 2019

Credit FILE

A Legacy Fund request of $500,000 to fund a planetarium at Science Central was put on hold indefinitely by City Council Tuesday night.

Science Central president Martin Fisher received approval from the Legacy Committee in February, following nearly an hour of debate over the status of the Legacy Fund. The funding was approved following Fisher’s ability to raise $1.7 million of the project’s $2.4 million price tag, and would serve as the final piece of the funding pie.

Fisher says the planetarium could be a game changer for the region.

“It’s permanent, it’s the only one in the city and the area. It will generate revenue for us, it will correlate with our other programs and activities. It works for our locals as well as out-of-towners,” Fisher said in his pitch.

Most council members spoke to their love of Science Central and said the project meets the Legacy Fund’s “transformative” standard. But once again, confusion over the status of the fund loomed over the discussion.

With current commitments, the fund will have somewhere between $24 to $27 million by the end of 2019. That’s below a desired $30 million, though a representative for the Legacy Committee who was present Tuesday night said dipping below that would not prevent them from meeting their financial requirements.

Still, some Council members are concerned over the status of the Electric Works project and the $10 million in Legacy dollars committed there. The Redevelopment Commission extended Electric Works’ final closing deadline to September 1, as opposed to its initial June 30 date, due to organizational restructuring within RTM Ventures.

The suggestion is that members of Electric Works will meet with Council on or around May 21 -- the date was mentioned but has not been officially determined -- to provide a status update on that project, with Council members Jason Arp and Paul Ensley openly suggesting Electric Works may fail to meet some of its financial requirements.

According to those members of Council, that conversation should provide a clearer picture for how they should vote on the Science Central planetarium. As a result, the measure was tabled until further notice; it’s the second time since November a decision on the planetarium has been held off while Legacy Fund issues are sorted out.

2nd District councilman Russ Jehl was one of the votes in favor of holding off for now.

“I also have a tremendous desire to preserve the corpus because I promised to do so with my constituents, so in a month things could look much different for me in terms of being able to look at this particular ask without having to make a choice that might be contrary to what I promised,” Jehl said.

The vote to table was 7-2. While late May was thrown around as a possible time to revisit the request, it is unknown when that will take place.

Full disclosure, Martin Fisher is the volunteer host of WBOI’s “Weekly Experiment” segment.