During a meeting Tuesday to discuss subletting part of Columbia Park for the Hanford Reach Interpretive Center, Richland City Council members questioned whether the museum will be able to support itself once it opens.
And they are worried they might be left "holding the bag" if it fails.
Councilman Bob Thompson, who said he has supported the proposed museum during its nine years of development so far, described the project as "fraught with peril" because of lingering uncertainties in the economy.
"I don't think it works," he said. "I just don't. It's difficult for me to say that. If it doesn't pencil out, sometimes we have to give the money back and take another look."
No one suggested going as far as shelving the project, and council members said they want the museum to succeed.
But they also were hesitant about the museum's financial viability, not only including its ability to operate but the ability of the Richland Public Facilities District to raise enough money to build the project.
Councilwoman Sheila Sullivan said she was concerned about whether the money already pledged by some donors ever would materialize.
"Have those checks been written yet? Will they ever be written?" Sullivan said.
More than $26 million has been raised for the project so far, leaving a little more than $14 million of the $40.5 million budget yet to be found.
Deputy City Manager Bill King told the council that the committee in charge of fundraising for the museum deliberately had put its activities at a standstill until issues involving the museum's location were resolved.
The museum initially was planned for Columbia Point south at the confluence of the Columbia and Yakima rivers, but officials involved with developing the project ran into bureaucratic blockades that couldn't be overcome.
They then began exploring a location in the west end of Columbia Park, and recently got preliminary approval from the Army Corps of Engineers Walla Walla District to build there.
Final approval can be made after a public comment period expires, and if no significant issues are raised.
The Corps owns the land in Columbia Park where the museum would be built, and leases that land to the city of Richland for the park.
The council has been working on a $1 per year sublease for the facilities district that includes deadlines for the money to be raised for construction, and financial guarantees such as a default fund set aside by the district that the city could use to pay any obligations it might incur if the project fails.
The facilities district is overseeing development of the 61,000-square-foot center, which is intended to tell the story of Hanford's role in winning the Cold War and World War II, as well as the history, geology, flora and fauna of the region.
The area's Ice Age Floods history also would be featured.
No action was taken Tuesday.
The council tentatively said it will consider the sublease next Tuesday.
-- Michelle Dupler: 582-1543; firstname.lastname@example.org