The Downtown Central Library planetarium got a $22 million boost from the legislative conference committee's deal on a 2005 state bonding bill, which also includes more than $40 million for transit connections radiating from Downtown.
City Councilmember Scott Benson (11th Ward) said, "We are extremely happy. To get the planetarium finally funded is a huge step forward."
The money - 90 percent of the city's $24 million request - came none too soon. The library itself is well under construction, with a summer 2006 expected opening. Rep. Margaret Anderson Kelliher (DFL-Minneapolis) said it would have been very expensive to build the planetarium after the Central Library was fully equipped and running.
Kelliher said planetarium officials would have to do a little more fund-raising and find places to trim expenses.
Parke Kunkel, chair of the Minnesota Planetarium Society, said if everything falls into place, the planetarium could open by late 2007.
Kunkel said if the money had come a year or two ago, the project might have saved $1 million to $2 million in construction costs through better coordination with the library project.
The money did not come in time to keep Planetarium Director Robert Bonadurer. Kunkel, said the Society had to lay off Bonadurer in November. In March, he became director of the new University of Texas at Arlington planetarium.
"The saddest irony is he left this week," said Colin Hamilton, executive director of the Friends of the Minneapolis Public Library. "It has been years of uncertainty and the ability to maintain a staff through that time has just diminished, to the point where they could no longer support a person. So it has become a purely volunteer effort at this point. They have to staff up quickly to get ready for opening day."
Said Kunkel, "We are on our way. Maybe we can entice him back."
Downtown should also benefit from two key transit components of the $880 million bill:
- $37.5 million for the North Star Corridor, a commuter rail connecting Downtown with the northwest suburbs, advances a project that, if built, would mean extending Downtown light-rail transit three blocks west of the Warehouse District station to link up to the new line.
- $5.5 million for Central Corridor engineering and planning to build a stronger transit link between Downtown Minneapolis and St. Paul. Although the transit mode isn't specified, a suggested line would branch off from the LRT route just east of Downtown.
Other Downtown-related spending includes:
- $10 million Cedar Avenue bus rapid transit, improving the transit link between Minneapolis and Dakota County.
- $7-9 million in competitive grants for the state's bioscience zones. (Projects in the city's newly created life-science corridor that stretches along Chicago Avenue from Downtown to Lake Street are eligible to apply.)
- $900,000 for Minneapolis Community and Technical College to plan to rehabilitate the Billy Graham property on the 1300 block of Hennepin Avenue South into classroom space.
Several other Downtown-area requests failed.
Kelliher said a $500,000 request for the "missing link" in the Cedar Lake bike trail through Downtown was not funded. The Shubert Theater also received no state money.
A legislative conference committee approved the plan March 30. The Legislature is expected to approve it this week, Kelliher said. Then the governor, who was part of the negotiations, must sign it.