Downey seeks $3M loan to build shuttle housing

DOWNEY - With the city's full-size space shuttle mockup still sitting under a temporary tent on the Downey Studios parking lot, the City Council this week authorized a $3 million loan application with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to construct permanent housing for the shuttle.If the loan is approved, the money would be used to build an approximately 18,000 square foot "neighborhood center" adjacent to the Columbia Memorial Space Center to house the 128-ft. wooden shuttle replica. The facility would also provide public meeting space for residents in the low-income Elm Vista neighborhood directly next to the space center. The shuttle replica - officially named "Inspiration" and built by Boeing engineers several decades ago - 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 house "lesser-known artifacts" from Downey's extensive role in the Apollo and space shuttle programs. City officials are also trying to secure items from NASA's shuttle landing facility in Orlando. 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. The interest rate is expected to be about 2.54 percent on the 20-year note. 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, city leaders 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," the application states. Priority for the center's use would be given to area residents and "partnerships are already being developed" to provide space for after-school childcare programs to benefit low-income residents. City officials also envision using the center for neighborhood watch meetings and as a cooling center for the elderly during hot summer months.

********** Published: January 10, 2013 - Volume 11 - Issue 39