Homewood officials took two steps Tuesday toward the development of a community science center, envisioned as a kind of mini-Museum of Science and Industry, agreeing to hire a consultant and purchase property for the project.
Homewood trustees directed Village Manager Jim Marino to prepare a contract with Global Studios, a group affiliated with the Exploratorium in San Fransisco, to conduct the first phase of the project.
The board also voted to purchase Ryan’s Funeral Home at 18022 Dixie Highway for the purpose of selling the property for redevelopment, with the science center as the first priority.
The science center idea met with enthusiastic support from board members and audience members, but the property purchase met with skepticism from citizens and representatives of Homewood School District 153.
The $75,000 contract with Global Studios will pay for the development of a concept plan. The firm will conduct community analysis, hold stakeholder meetings, evaluate the market, suggest funding sources and report on the feasibility of the project, Marino said.
“If we are interested after that and we think it’s something we want to pursue further, then I would come back to the board with the second phase,” he said.
Village project leader Rachael Jones gave a presentation outlining the science center concept, which she said is a revival of an idea the village began exploring in 2010, when it made a bid to host the Frankfort children’s museum.
She envisions a community science center that would have broader appeal than most children’s museums, attracting people of all ages and not only attract visitors to Homewood but would be a place local residents would want to visit regularly.
The two primary results of the center would be to increase activity downtown and to enhance science, technology, engineering and math education in the community, she said.
“We have a foot-traffic problem,” she said, noting that individual shops or restaurants in the downtown area can’t generate the kind of traffic that will support the whole district.
But a convergence of new developments — including the science center, Le Banque Hotel and the Martin Square streetscape — could help change that.
“To get an idea of what we’re talking about here, think part science musem, part retail space, part community center,” she said. “Think of a mad scientist’s penny arcade, a scientific funhouse, activities that challenge youth and adults alike.”
Jones said the project is one she hopes all the community’s public agencies — schools, library and parks — will support because she believes they will all benefit from a local effort to help close the nation’s gap in science education.
She suggested the characterization of the science center as a small-scale MSI was not hyperbole.
“Exhibits that would be accessible at our science museum would be the same exhibits you can find at the Museum of Science and Industry,” she said. “Global Studios builds those same exhibits.”
One aspect of the project audience members found it difficult to support was the next item onthe agenda, the purchase of Ryan’s Funeral Home for $475,000, to be paid for with funds from the Central Business District tax increment financing district, which is set to expire Dec. 31.
When the TIF expires, taxing agencies receive a distribution of unused funds, and the schools, faced with chronic funding challenges, urged the board not to spend money they had hoped to receive.
Several residents also expressed concern about the loss of revenue for the village if the property is taken off the tax rolls while it’s held by the village. And if the property eventually is purchased by a tax-exempt not-for-profit business, it could be lost as a property tax generator for the long term.
Homewood School District 153 board President Shelly Marks and former long-time board member Tom Dockweiler spoke against using the TIF money for the property purchase, although both expressed support for the science center idea.
Alex Bosch asked the board to consider two possible remedies for the TIF distribution problem, either entering into an intergovernmental agreement to distribute the money to taxing agencies following the sale of the property or taking steps to keep the property on the tax rolls as long as possible.
Village Attorney Chris Cummings said a binding intergovernmental agreement wouldn’t work, but the board could consider a resolution expressing its intent to distribute proceeds from the sale to taxing agencies.
Each board member expressed support for that idea — and for the community’s schools.
Trustee Anne Colton, who was involved in the 2010 effort to attract a children’s museum to Homewood, said projects like this are what make the village successful. She urged caution, but suggested moving forward.
“The reason we’re doing well as a community is because we can make bold, decisive steps,” she said. “We’re like sharks. We have to keep swimming. We have to keep moving, keep growing.”
Following the meeting, Marks said the board’s willingness to distribute proceeds from the sale of the property was a welcome gesture.
Contact Eric Crump at [email protected]