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More funds to cover Leonardo costs requested

The Salt Lake City Council is being asked to again dip into the city's fund balance to cover increasing costs for The Leonardo arts and science museum.

Budget amendments requested by city administration include a plea for another $900,000 to help cover costs of converting the old city library on the corner of 500 South and 200 East into The Leonardo.

If approved, the additional funds — along with the $600,000 the council agreed in August to put toward the project — would be combined with an expected $1 million grant from FEMA to boost funding for The Leonardo by about $2.5 million.

The city would be required to front that $2.5 million from its fund balance and be reimbursed by the FEMA grant when awarded. Because seismic renovations were included in the $10.2 million general-obligation bond approved by voters in 2003, some of the $1.5 million added to the project may be returned to the fund balance.

Councilman Eric Jergensen said he favored moving the increases forward, and the other four council members in attendance at a work session Tuesday nodded agreement.

The City Council has scheduled a public hearing on the proposed budget amendments — totaling $2.1 million — for Oct. 16 at 7 p.m.

The bond issue for construction of The Leonardo required the museum to find a matching $10 million in outside donations for programming, which museum officials have said has been secured.

But inflation and a new city environmental requirement have driven up construction costs, and The Leonardo now faces a shortfall. Mayor Rocky Anderson and museum officials have said another $13 million is needed for the project.

During a City Council work session last month, council members questioned staff about why cost estimates were so far off.

Staff reported Tuesday that the city's engineering division did not review cost estimates on the project before it was placed on the ballot and was not asked to do so.

Councilman Dave Buhler suggested that the City Council make sure city staff has conducted some type of engineering analysis on future projects.

"Hopefully we can prevent this kind of thing from coming back and biting us, so the costs are what we told the voters they would be," Buhler said.

The Leonardo has been billed as a hands-on art, culture and science center for young people and adults, inspired by Leonardo da Vinci's multidisciplinary approach to exploring the world. The project will include about 30,000 square feet of exhibit space, a gift shop, a cafe, a children's story zone, performance theaters, multimedia studios, science labs, a darkroom, a reception area and conference rooms.

Leonardo officials expect the facility to open in early to mid-2009.

Other proposed budget amendments include $812,500 for open space land purchases; $155,000 for election costs; $89,000 for a land-use attorney; $72,000 for a transportation engineer; $43,500 for a local legislative lobbyist selected by the mayor; and $22,100 for impact-fee waivers.