Shuttle mockup may be wearing out its welcome

DOWNEY - City council members are having second thoughts about constructing a $3 million facility to house its much-celebrated space shuttle mockup. The council unanimously agreed in January to apply for a $3 million HUD loan to build an 18,000 sq. ft. "neighborhood center" outside the Columbia Memorial Space Center to house the shuttle replica, which was built by North American Rockwell in 1972.

The replica, named Inspiration, measures 128 feet long and is made of wood and plastic parts. It was taken out of storage last summer and in need of an extensive renovation.

Brian Saeki, community development director for Downey, said HUD would likely approve Downey's loan application but only if the city put up the space center as collateral.

Mayor Pro Tem Fernando Vasquez and Councilman Alex Saab voted against that request Tuesday. Saab said he had concerns about the neighborhood center's operation costs and how the city would pay down the 20-year loan.

Downey officials proposed paying the loan's interest in years 1-4, followed by 15 annual payments of $187,500 to cover the principal. The interest rate is estimated at about 2.54 percent.

The city plans to use federal Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) money to make its loan payments. However, CDBG funding has been reduced by the federal government over the last several year years, including a $400,000 cut last year.

If CDBG funding is eliminated entirely, the city would have to find another way to make its payments, and "this could include using general fund dollars if no other funding source can be identified," Saeki said.

Downey has tried to relinquish the shuttle to other cities and even local universities but found no takers, admitted city manager Gilbert Livas.

The shuttle is currently under a tent in the former Downey Studios parking lot but it needs to be moved by next February due to construction of the Tierra Luna retail/office development.

Even fully restored, the shuttle replica is not expected to be a regional draw with the space shuttle Endeavour -- a real shuttle -- only 10 miles away at the California Science Center.

********** Published: May 16, 2013 - Volume 12 - Issue 05