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New science center at Fairpark?

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A Maryland investment banking firm has given a notice of intent to provide $15 million for a new Utah Science & Adventure Center at the State Fairpark, two Utah developers for the project said Friday.

Peter Salm, president, and Kevin Elsberry, vice president of operations for Project 7 Alliance, showed a letter of intent they received from Hanover Capital, Glen Burnie, Md., for the project. It has strong endorsement from the State Fairpark Board and its staff.Norman M. Larson, president of Western Empire Advisers, a Salt Lake funding facilitator, told the Deseret News Friday that he is optimistic the project will become a reality.

"Hanover Capital is committed to funding the project and has issued terms for the funding. But the underwriting is continuing and we won't know all the details until that is completed," Larson said.

Director Donna Dahl and other Fairpark officials are working with Division of Facilities Construction and Management (DFCM), Project 7 Alliance and other officials to work out lease and other arrangements for the center. Debbie Larson, a co-founder of Project 7, is the latter group's chief financial officer.

A specific site has yet to be selected for the 110,000-square-foot building at the Fairpark. That and other improvements being contemplated at the 65-acre Fairpark is awaiting a site plan being arranged by DFCM officials.

"As far as I am concerned, their (Project 7) financing is pretty well in place. They are ready to go, and the Fairpark is ready to go. We are just awaiting DFCM's site plan so that final details can be worked out," Dahl said.

If the science center becomes a reality, its opening will be a major step in the Fairpark's long efforts to become more than just a site for the annual Utah State Fair. Officials have worked for years to make improvements in facilities there and to attract developments that will help bolster fair interim revenues. By state law, the Fairpark became a public nonprofit corporation July 1, 1995, but it still relies on state funds.

Dahl and the Fairpark board, headed by Vernal banker Lynn Runolfson, say they have no intention of attracting facilities or programs that would divert the Fair-park from its primary mission of hosting an annual fair. But they say some of the buildings for the fair might need to be relocated or changed to accommodate the science center and other facilities. Efforts are also being made to secure a separate facility, The Living Planet Aquarium.

During a Friday interview, Salm and Elsberry showed architectural drawings and other materials for the project, which they said has been under way for about four years. Other sites had been considered.

Salm and Elsberry discussed plans for many science exhibits, a 400-seat Iwerks CineDome theater that will play IMAX films and a variety of other features in the three-story center.

"We will be touting Utah science and Utah industries as well as Utah's earth sciences. We want it to be a place where people can come and learn about Utah as well as Utah's diverse industries," Elsberry said.

Science exhibits, to be rotated through the center, would include an earthquake room, a "space camp," high-powered microscopes, "virtual reality" exhibits and a beta test site. The latter is a section where companies could do marketing research on new products or inventions. Food and gift facilities, child care and conference facilities are also planned, the developers said.

"The science exhibits will provide a learning experience for (people) of all ages, including those over 30. This will be accomplished by using hands-on exhibits, which make exploring science fun," Salm said.

Salm, vice president of Aerospace Tooling and Machining, and Elsberry, an engineering manager at EFI Electronics, said they hope lease, Fairpark "condo" fees and other arrangements can be worked out with the Fairpark, DFCM and other parties within a reasonable time. They hope that construction can begin soon after the 1998 fair, which ends Sept. 20. Kempton Lloyd Fuller, Mesa, Ariz., is the project architect.

Salm and Elsberry said local contractors have told them that the science center could be completed 10 to 12 months after construction begins.

Frank McMenimen, DFCM program director, said Friday the Fairpark site plan will probably be ready in early September. Fairpark Corp. has a 20-year lease on the Fairpark property.

"Our goal is to ensure that the corporation makes a reasonable profit operating as a business and that Utah citizens benefit financially and culturally" from the interactive project, McMenimen said.

Opening of the science center "would be one of the most exciting things that has happened to the Salt Lake Valley and Utah in a long time," the state official said.

The Project 7 Alliance Web site is (www.users.uswest.net/(tilde)usac/Index.htm)