Mission Support Alliance to back Reach center

April 4, 2012 

Frank Armijo told the Richland City Council on Tuesday that he's had questions about the proposed Hanford Reach Interpretive Center but now is ready to back the project.

The Mission Support Alliance president told the council that although the Hanford contractor has supported the project in theory, it has been hesitant thus far about committing any money.

But Armijo hinted that's about to change as he joined Lisa Toomey, the new executive director for the interpretive center project, in a report to the council Tuesday.

"We have been involved on the sidelines," he said. "We weren't sure of the site. We weren't sure where the money was going and if the project was going to be successful. With the change the last few months and the new leadership, later this month we plan to announce a pretty significant financial investment."

Armijo's support was a show of confidence for the Richland Public Facilities District and a project that has been on shaky ground in the public's eyes as council members publicly have questioned whether the proposed museum is viable and fundraising had stalled for the estimated $40 million cost for the 61,000-square-foot building.

But the district's board members and staff in recent weeks have discussed building a smaller 26,000-square-foot version of the museum -- at least to start -- that would cost less and be finished sooner. They also have discussed cutting operating expenses by 30 percent.

And they provided to the Herald a detailed account of how $13.8 million was spent from 2002 to 2011.

That prompted council members who previously have questioned the project to praise the facilities district for increasing its level of transparency and accountability to the public. Mayor John Fox described it as a "refreshing new approach."

"Accountability to the donors and the public has been of concern to the council," Fox said. "That has been our purpose in the changes we have made to the public facilities district board. To be successful, you need to be fully accountable, as courageous as that may be given the history it has had. ... I wish you every success."

Councilman Bob Thompson also has raised concerns about the project, saying in public meetings he didn't think the business plan for the interpretive center "pencils out."

"You have regained our trust," he told Toomey on Tuesday. "In essence, we are better partners than we have ever been before."

The interpretive center is intended to tell the story of the Hanford Reach National Monument, and of the region's history, science, geology, plants and animals.

The current proposal under consideration would cost about $20 million, and the board said a week ago that would mean about $10.5 million needs to be raised.

Armijo said MSA will donate experts to help review construction estimates and find any possible cost savings.

The facilities district board is expected to discuss current proposal at a meeting later this month.

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