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City considers federal loan to build space shuttle housing
WRITTEN BY :   Eric Pierce

With the city’s full-size space shuttle mockup still sitting under a temporary tent, the City Council tomorrow is expected to support a $3 million loan application with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

If approved, the money would be used to build a “neighborhood center” adjacent to the Columbia Memorial Space Center to house the 128-ft. wooden shuttle replica. The approximately 18,000 sq. ft. facility would also provide public meeting space for residents in the low-income Elm Vista neighborhood next to the Columbia Memorial Space Center.

The interest rate is expected to be about 2.54 percent on the 20-year loan. Downey officials are proposing to pay down the interest in years 1-4, followed by 15 annual payments of $187,500 to cover the principal.

The debt would be paid using federal Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) money, which has historically been used to help fund social programs and reduce blight in low- to moderate-income neighborhoods.

CDBG funding, however, has been reduced by the federal government over the last several years, including a recent $400,000 cut, from $1.5 million in 2011 to $1.1 million last year. If the program is eliminated entirely, the city would have to find another way to pay down the debt, and “this could include using general fund dollars if no other funding source can be identified,” community development director Brian Saeki wrote in a report to the City Council.

In its loan application, city officials said the neighborhood center “is intended to inspire neighborhood pride and unity, in contrast to the blighted conditions that the property has exhibited for the last decade. A portion of the neighborhood served by the proposed center is the Elm Vista neighborhood, a long-time focus of intense Police Department enforcement and preservation efforts.”

Priority for the center’s use would be given to neighborhood residents and “partnerships are already being developed” to provide space for after-school childcare programs. City officials also envision using the center for neighborhood watch meetings and as a cooling center for the elderly during hot summer months.

The space shuttle replica is not expected to be a regional draw because a real space shuttle, the Endeavour, is only 10 miles away at the California Science Center. In addition to the mockup, the facility would also house “lesser-known artifacts” from Downey’s extensive role in the Apollo and space shuttle programs.

A decision on the loan application is expected within 3-6 months. If the loan is approved, the city could have cash on hand by fall.

Published: Monday, January 7, 2013, WEB ONLY
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