Downey's space shuttle mock-up going back in storage

DOWNEY - Taking into account the recent operational setbacks at the Columbia Memorial Space Center, the Downey City Council last Thursday abandoned plans to build an adjacent neighborhood community center, which would cost $3 million.

The Inspiration Neighborhood Center would have held the city's 122-ft.-long space shuttle replica, but councilmembers decided instead to pack and store the mock-up, which was built by North American Rockwell in 1972.

"I don't feel comfortable with this building...until we have more of a definitive plan, I can't support it," said Councilman Alex Saab, who sits on the subcommittee for the space center.

"Three million dollars is quite a bit of money, not including the amount to program it -- $200,000-$300,000 a year in perpetuity. We have fiscal responsibilities to take care of. I'm not shutting the door, but let's stop and breathe. Let's think this out, come back and build a building we'd be proud of."

Councilman Roger Brossmer, who championed the Columbia Memorial Space Center and made the shuttle mock-up available for public viewing during his 2012 term as mayor, disagreed with his colleagues' position, but acknowledged that the council "blew it" in regards to proper management of the facility.

"Over the course of the next one or two years, we need to earmark money for an executive director -- it's our only prayer for eliminating the encroachment of that facility," Brossmer said. "We need a full-time director who knows what he's doing."

The proposed Inspiration Neighborhood Center was a multi-purpose community building with two meeting areas for community events and after-school programs. City officials planned to construct the 15,950-sq.-ft. facility near Discovery Park on Columbia Way.

In addition to the space shuttle replica, the building was also expected to house other space exploration artifacts in Downey's possession.

Earlier this year, the city applied and was approved for a $3 million federal loan through the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Using a portion of its annual Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) money, the city planned to pay back the loan over 20 years. Principal and interest payments would eventually total nearly $300,000 per year.

"I love our city's space history with a passion. I love the Columbia Memorial Space Center, but it's broken," Councilman Mario Guerra said with a sigh. "We need to do programming -- we can't just put a building on top of a shuttle for it to sit there. It doesn't make sense.

"I'm leaning [towards] moving it once then moving it back once we figure out what we're going to do," he said.

Required to move the mock-up from its current location by February in order to make way for the new Promenade at Downey retail and entertainment center, the city council directed staff to relocate the shuttle replica to the nursery area of a city maintenance yard.

City officials say turning the area into a storage facility will impact public works' operations, but the inconvenience is tolerable for the immediate future. Once moved, the shuttle will be stored outside, covered by weather-proof materials, according to staff. The relocation will cost approximately $152,000 from the city's general fund.

The council almost approved an option to rent or buy a tent structure to store the mock-up nearby the space center. However, Mayor Fernando Vasquez along with Guerra and Saab found the option too expensive and agreed that buying a tent would only deter the city from building a permanent structure in the future.

********** Published: Dec. 19, 2013 - Volume 12 - Issue 36

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