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UA halts work on downtown science center

Citizen Staff Writer



The University of Arizona said Wednesday it will suspend building a combined UA Science Center and Arizona State Museum downtown until the national and state economic crises ease.

“Our mutual commitment to a strong partnership between the UA and the city in downtown redevelopment remains strong,” UA President Robert N. Shelton said. “However, the current budget crisis makes it impossible for us to proceed with our plans at this time.”

Shelton said the university will suspend building design and development work on the $130 million project immediately. Some exhibit design work will continue, but at a much slower pace, and UA will request that the city keep the site open so construction can start when the economy improves.

The museum and science center are part of the downtown Rio Nuevo redevelopment project. The City Council at its study session Wednesday told city staff to concentrate Rio Nuevo efforts on downtown infrastructure and the Tucson Convention Center hotel project. (See story, 7A)

“There are key projects we have to keep working on,” Councilwoman Nina Trasoff said. “The Tucson Convention Center hotel is critical.”"

UA intended to start construction this summer at the Tucson Origins park, west of Interstate 10 and south of Congress Street.

“A better economic future for Tucson absolutely requires a strong UA presence in downtown,” Shelton said. “The mayor and council and I share that vision. We will continue to work together to make that a reality.”

The university had finished conceptual designs – the first of three pre-construction phases – but had not started design development or construction plans for the science center, said Leslie Tolbert, UA’s vice president for research, graduate studies and economic development.

“Since we were at the end of a phase, it seemed a reasonable time to go on hold,” Tolbert said. “The development of exhibits will continue at a very slow pace with fewer people.”

UA has spent $13.3 million over several years on planning the science center. Three years ago, officials floated a proposal – later killed – to make it part of a $350 million bridge that would span Interstate 10.

Continued funding for the science center is an unresolved issue. The university was working with $2 million from the city’s $80 million Rio Nuevo bond issued in December.

UA was relying on $65 million from a second Rio Nuevo bond scheduled to be issued this summer.

But that is now uncertain because of plummeting sales tax revenue that would repay the bond. The Legislature also could strip Tucson of the tax increment financing that funds Rio Nuevo.

The TIF money would fund about half of the science center construction upfront, with UA required to come up with $60 million to complete construction. Rio Nuevo intended to reimburse UA with a 2014 bond.

“From our standpoint, we don’t know what our budget is for (fiscal 2010),” Tolbert said. “We’re all struggling.”

UA suspends work on downtown science center/museum


> City Council refocuses on infrastructure and TCC hotel.

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