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Regents OK UA Science Center plan

TIM LAKE/Arizona Daily Wildcat
UA President Peter Likins (left) and Regent Jack Jewett listen to discussions during Friday's regents meeting in Tempe.
By Tim Lake & Shelley Shelton
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Monday, September 29, 2003

With the mayor of Tucson and several other city officials present to show their support, the Arizona Board of Regents approved a plan for the UA to spend more than $56 million toward a downtown science center.

The $82 million UA Science Center, expected to open Jan. 1, 2008, will include a bridge spanning both sides of the freeway near downtown Tucson. It will be part of the Rio Nuevo downtown revitalization project.

"This is the first step in revitalizing downtown," said Regent Jack Jewett, after the regents meeting Friday in Tempe. Jewett is from Tucson. "This is a project that I believe will just be extraordinary."

About the appearances of Republican Mayor Bob Walkup, City Councilman Fred Ronstadt, and other city officials, Jewett said, "They didn't mail in their support. They're here, and I think that's a testament to how important the project is."

Regent Fred Boice, also from Tucson, said he supports the move as part of an ongoing trend among universities.

"Embedding the university in the community seems to be a very popular thing these days," he said, adding that this is a great opportunity for the UA to do so since it has done very little of that up until now.

The university will recoup the $56 million investment from revenues generated by the facility, once the UA raises a $16 million gift endowment fund and the City of Tucson contributes $20 million, said UA President Peter Likins.

"Once these elements are in place, the revenues from this project will be more than enough to retire the debt," he said.

The feasibility of this project is sound, he said, citing positive reports from two consulting firms, one of which had not given a previous aquarium project a positive report.

The fact that they nixed the aquarium is a good indication that the project's consultants are capable of recognizing when something will not work, he added.

"They tanked the aquarium and supported the bridge," said Likins.

Downtown Tucson will have a rebirth with this project, which is why the university is willing to stick its neck out, he said.

"We believe in Rio Nuevo," he said.

Walkup, a Republican, said he is confident the City Council will support this project and expects them to approve the city's $20 million end-of-the-deal in less than two months.

"This is something that makes it real," Ronstadt said. "The magnitude of this opportunity is so great, the city will be hard-pressed (not to do it)."

Rio Nuevo will bring new businesses and create new jobs, Walkup said.

"Private investment is showing up," he said.

Walkup said the main UA campus will be linked by the trolley to the UA Science Center.

This expansion is already going to happen, he said.

"We're cooking," he added.

The bridge at the science center will house rotating science exhibits, as well as provide transport for pedestrians and bicyclists across the freeway.

Other attractions will include Southern Arizona's first IMAX giant-screen theater and a large type of planetarium called a "unispherium." Students may also get to view surgery live and ask surgeons questions.

The new UA Science Center would replace the Flandrau Science Center currently on campus.

Last year, the Flandrau Science Center was one of 16 programs planned to be cut under Focused Excellence. After a budget cut and a move out of the College of Science, the center was saved.

Supporters of Rio Nuevo have wanted to move Flandrau into the Rio Nuevo project since 1999, when voters approved the project by passing Proposition 400.

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