RICHLAND — A week after members raised serious doubts about the future of the proposed Hanford Reach Interpretive Center, the Richland City Council on Tuesday voted 5-2 to sublet part of Columbia Park for the museum's construction.
"I'm ecstatic," Kimberly Camp, interpretive center CEO, said after the vote.
Approval of the sublease removes one of the last obstacles toward building the 61,000-square-foot history and science museum in the west end of Columbia Park.
All that remains is approval from the Army Corps of Engineers in Walla Walla for environmental permitting, and that could come as early as next week.
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The Corps issued a draft approval in late April, but a 30-day public comment period must expire before final approval can be given and construction can start.
The comment period ends Monday, and officials involved with the museum's development told the city council during the Tuesday meeting that only two minor comments have been received so far.
With the Columbia Park site all but secured, Camp and members of the Richland Public Facilities District -- the public agency overseeing the museum's development -- were optimistic about resuming fundraising for the estimated $40 million project.
About $26 million has been raised to date, primarily from sales tax dollars flowing into the facilities district, state and federal grants, and pledges from a handful of large donors.
The committee leading the fundraising charge has yet to launch a public campaign in which they seek donations from the community at large, but committee co-chairman Mike Kluse, director of Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, told the council he believes the money will come.
"Now that the location is decided ... I believe the excitement and momentum will build and the community will come out insupport of it," Kluse said.
Dan Boyd, the facilities district board treasurer, told the council he'd like those involved with the project to be given a chance to finish what they started nine years ago.
"We are well on the way to doing that," Boyd said.
The sublease contains a schedule of checkpoints and benchmarks that the facilities district must meet along the path toward building the museum, including setting target dates for raising money and awarding contracts.
The schedule is designed to give the city several exit points if it looks like the project isn't coming to fruition.
Overall, council members felt the sublease gave the city enough protection that they should let the project move forward in Columbia Park, but concerns about the museum's viability lingered even among those who voted in favor.
Among those doubts were whether it's feasible to raise enough money to build the project as it is currently designed, and whether the museum will be self-sustaining over the 46-year life of the sublease.
Councilman Bob Thompson, who voted in favor of the sublease, said he thought the council should think hard about the possibility that money from the city's general fund someday may have to be spent to keep the museum open, and what the trade-off will be when that day comes.
Councilman Phil Lemley, one of the two votes against the sublease, said he thinks there are numerous issues yet to be resolved with the project, and voiced worries that if the museum fails the city will have to answer to the Army Corps, which owns the land and leases it to the city.
"I think somehow, some way, these guys will come up with the money," Lemley said of raising the money for construction. "But that's the short end of it. ... If it fails, we could be held liable to remediate the property."
Councilwoman Sheila Sullivan also voted against the sublease.
Camp said after the council meeting that she believes the facilities district has developed a solid business plan for the museum that will allow it to thrive in theTri-Cities.
"There are 19,000 museums in the country the last time I checked. Many of them are functioning as viable businesses," she said. "It is not an inevitability it will end up on the city's dole."
-- Michelle Dupler: 582-1543; email@example.com