Leonardo Cash Plan is Endorsed
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Patience thin but passion for the project intact, the Salt Lake City Council carved out a cash path for The Leonardo, a state-of-the-art science and cultural center proposed for the old Main Library.
In a 5-2 straw-poll vote Tuesday, the council endorsed a financial strategy to pursue naming rights dollars, a FEMA grant, and taxes from a community-development area for the facility that has seen its price tag mushroom since residents approved a $10 million bond for the project four years ago.
But the nod to support Mayor Ralph Becker's recommendation didn't come easy.
"Cool doesn't pay the bills," said Councilman J.T. Martin, who questioned whether the city really could snatch $5 million to $8 million in naming rights for the science center, now estimated at nearly $22 million.
Martin grilled Leonardo director Mary Tull about cost overruns - "it's much more than inflation," he said - while other council members questioned the priority compared with needed public-safety buildings or a sports complex for kids.
Council Chairwoman Jill Remington Love wondered about the prudence of funding a $4.7 million third floor, when its annual operating cost is a hefty $2.4 million. "I just wonder if we're not setting ourselves up for failure again," she said.
And Councilman Carlton Christensen questioned the naming-rights strategy, even if the contract is in perpetuity.
"There's a reason the E-Center is still the E-Center," he said.
But Becker, who argued many of the costs were not foreseeable, said either way, the city can't let the building sit vacant for 20 years.
"I share the frustration," Becker said. "But I also know we have a city facility here that should be put to good use."
Becker noted the latest design incorporates solar technology on the roof, which ultimately would cut costs. He and his staff want to put a full-court press on naming rights, cash from other governments such as Salt Lake County, and perhaps tax credits for the historic structure to supplement the $13.6 million already raised by the Leonardo. The city's goal is to have that cash secured - some $5.5 million - by June 1.
But that appears to be the final deadline before the council backs away.
"It's not the only project on the block," warned Councilman Van Turner. "The line is in the sand."