One of my favorite podcasts is Astronomy Cast, because… well, I’m a geek for science, especially physics and astronomy.
So, I was very excited to learn that Torvald Hessel, executive director, and his colleague Dr. Ron Johns with the Austin Planetarium would be visiting with the DANA board last night to discuss the future of this $60MM planetarium in downtown Austin. Lest you believe this is just a wacky idea, they’ve got some heavies involved including local Cosmonaut, Richard Garriott and Astronaut Rick Linnehan.
Austin is the largest city without a planetarium, or a full-dome theater with projection against the ceiling (not to be confused with an observatory which is a telescope at a remote location). Of the 50 largest cities in the U.S., Austin is the only city without a planetarium of any kind.
Planetariums boost tourism and tax revenue, and are a family oriented destination for city residents and visitors. Studies suggest that planetariums increase interest in sciences as a career – a big concern for our government – and facilitates worker retention, especially in the high tech industry. In other words, “Nerds like to do nerdy things.” says Hessel.
The facility would include:
-technology center, a showcase for locally developed technologies.
The venue under consideration would be 115,000sf and located on the Southeast corner of Congress and MLK. This site is currently a surface level parking lot owned by the State of Texas. The planetarium is seeking a long term lease and would include three stories of underground parking that the State could still use.
Can you see a [real] “Museum District” in the making? I can. With the Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum ($80MM) to the west and the Blanton Museum of Art ($85MM) to the north, the addition of another exhibiting destination like an Austin Planetarium ($60MM estimate) should generate increased traffic to all three. See economies of agglomeration (or locally by Chris Bradford who introduced me to the concept).
The Austin Planetarium is operated as a not-for-profit 501(c)(3). You can donate and become a sponsor here. 2010 goals for the Austin Planetarium are to acquire land and formalize city and state commitments, enlarge donor pool, and lock-in corporate sponsorships.
So, is the Austin Planetarium just another piece of Austin real estate vaporware? It appears they have a great team, passion, and access to big corporate and university money. The site selection is inspired, and we’re told that no other group is at the table proposing a higher and better use of the parking lot. The earliest we would see ground breaking is in 2011.