Leonardo officials propose to eliminate a $5.5 million funding gap for the education and cultural center by scaling back initial renovation of the former Salt Lake City Library.

The proposal, sent to Salt Lake City officials today, outlines renovations that can be completed with the $10.2 million general-obligation bond approved by voters in 2003, allowing the center to open in fall 2009.

The revised approach coincides with The Leonardo board's appointment of veteran museum planner and developer Peter Giles as the center's new executive director.

Giles replaces Mary Tull, who will now serve as the organization's director of community partnerships and support.

"We are in a whole new phase of the project," Tull said. "We really need someone with the expertise in operating a museum."

Leonardo officials will formally present the revised plan to the City Council on Aug. 19 and request release of the bond.

Councilman Eric Jergensen called The Leonardo's proposal "an encouraging step, but I'm not sure if this is the answer or not."

"We want The Leonardo to work and be successful," Jergensen said. "There are still some issues we need to work through."

Councilwoman Jill Remington Love also expressed concern, saying The Leonardo will need to do more to prove its viability before she votes to issue bond money.

Loss of revenue and other negative impacts of scaling back space for exhibits and programming in the first phase also need to be explored, Love said.

"At some point, we have to ask, 'Are we giving our residents what we told them they would be getting when they voted for it?"'

Leonardo officials say yes.

"The plan is pared back, but it's still adhering to our core values of hands-on learning, creativity and a community gathering space for dialogue and discussion," said Alexandra Hesse, exhibits manager.

In February, city officials and representatives of The Leonardo presented to the City Council a business plan and cost estimates to renovate the old library building, 209 E. 500 South. Under that plan, The Leonardo needed another $5.5 million to renovate the building.

"We were struggling to make up that funding gap," Giles said.

The Leonardo's outlook improved in June, when it was announced it would host the third installment of the popular human-body exhibit "Body Worlds" for a limited engagement beginning Sept. 19.

About $300,000 in renovations have been made in preparation for the touring exhibit, including $85,000 in permanent improvements to the facility. Encouraged by the work, board members began compiling a list of must-fix items that could be done with available funds.

Proposed renovations include a full seismic upgrade of the building, asbestos abatement, new main-floor rest rooms, upgraded plumbing fixtures and mechanical work.

The estimated cost for first-phase renovations is $7.2 million. A new hybrid mechanical system would add $3.1 million to the price tag, and about $680,000 to renovate and enhance the auditorium also is being requested. In all, the renovations total $10.7 million.

"Essentially we're talking about renovations that will make the building safe and functional," Giles said.

The second phase of the project primarily involves renovation of the second floor to expand size and quality of exhibit space. Facilities on the third floor would be expanded and improved in phase three.

A timeline for start and completion of the second and third phases has not been set. Projected exhibit and program costs are $5 million per phase.


E-MAIL: jpage@desnews.com