A proposed downtown science center can be built without a tax increase and could become a valuable economic development tool that would actually help lower property taxes, the chairman of the Salt Lake County Commission believes.

Commission Chairman Bart Barker echoed a conviction expressed last month by members of the Hansen Planetarium citizens advisory board - development of a science center can be completely or mostly funded by private donations.Private-sector investors and at least one foreign company have already indicated interest in the project, Barker said.

The county commission agreed Thursday to designate the planetarium board as the acting board of the science center to help facilitate a feasibility study of the center proposal, and to deal with entities interested in assisting with development.

The center was proposed as part of downtown development package that also includes a new 18,500-seat arena for the Utah Jazz and expanded convention facilities.

A county task force and a consultant are still studying the feasibility of the arena and convention facilities, but another independent task force has been set up solely to explore the science center proposal.

The science center would comprise three major components: the planetarium; an exhibition center, featuring interactive exhibits that teach basic science principles; and an IMAX-type theater, with a 60-foot screen for showing specially produced science documentary films.

Barker said the proposed center, which would support its own operating costs through admission revenues, grants and corporate sponsorships, would be similar to profitable science centers in San Francisco and Seattle.

"It would help our primary and secondary school students become more interested in science," Barker said. "They could learn how principles of physics work by interacting with a hands-on exhibit."

By increasing Utah students' interest in science, the center could be a tool for economic development by helping the state's science and technology-related industries expand. That business growth could help reduce property taxes in the future.

So far no one has an estimate of how much a science center would cost. The costs, and how they could be paid, are two of the issues the science center task force will be studying.