- Associated Press - Tuesday, July 28, 2015

July 28—The Decatur City Council heard a proposed $3.5 million incentive plan Monday for the Cook Museum of Natural Sciences.

The proposed incentives would be spread over a 20-year period and based on sales tax revenues after the completion of the $17 million facility in downtown Decatur.

Construction on the 57,000-square-foot building on 2.3 acres on Fourth Avenue began in June. The museum will feature a variety of natural habitats, a cafe with an outdoor patio, a theater, two classrooms, a gift shop and space for traveling exhibits.

If approved at the council’s Aug. 3 meeting, the museum would receive the incentives based on the 4-cent sales tax revenue it collects for the city through attendance receipts, gift shop sales and other revenue producers, said Wally Terry, city director of planning and community development.

Included in the package is the penny sales tax traditionally given to Decatur City Schools.

Councilman Charles Kirby said he would like the school board’s support for diverting its portion of the tax to the museum.

Superintendent Ed Nichols said he realizes the sales tax revenues would be new revenues, but he would like to make sure Decatur’s students receive a benefit from this diversion. He suggested Decatur students might receive an admission discount that other area schools wouldn’t receive.

“I’m excited about the museum, but we need to balance out the loss of the money that benefits our children with another opportunity,” Nichols said.

The proposal says the city would pay the incentives semi-annually, and it includes requirements the museum upgrade and maintain the city parking lot, alley and the adjacent portion of Holly Street Northeast. A portion of the city lot would be reserved for the Princess Theater Center for the Performing Arts and existing restaurants.

At least 10 percent of the incentives would go toward city improvements to Lee Street.

The city has been awarded a $500,000 matching grant from the Alabama Department of Transportation for streetscape improvements to Lee Street. It requires a $100,000, 20 percent match from the city plus about $42,000 for preliminary engineering services.

If the City Council accepts the grant at its Aug. 3 meeting, Mayor Don Kyle said a portion of the Cook-generated sales tax will go to the city’s match for this grant.

Terry said incentives would be paid as the museum reaches certain sales tax goals, allowing Cook to speed up the payments.

“They could be paid off in five years,” Terry said.

Councilman Chuck Ard, who helped formulate the agreement, said the museum is projected to bring in between $160,000 to $180,000 a year if its attendance goals are met.

The incentives also are attached to a planned a second phase that would increase the museum’s cost to $25 million, Kyle said.

“If the museum doesn’t make the additional investment, the years on the incentives are reduced from 20 to 15 years,” Kyle said.

Brian Cook, chief administrative officer of Cook’s Pest Control, said a consultant projected the museum will draw 214,000 visitors in its first year.

“We believe this could have the same kind of impact as a Point Mallard,” Cook said. “But the museum will be downtown, and it will have a direct impact on the downtown businesses.”

City Council President Gary Hammon said the agreement is similar to previous incentive packages for The Crossings of Decatur, Olive Garden and Decatur Mall.

“We’re not giving them a dime,” Hammon said. “The incentives will come from the money they generate.”

Hammon said it’s important for the city to support the museum because of the number of visitors it expects to attract.

“They will wind up staying in our hotels and eating at our restaurants,” Hammon said. “They may get a new sweatshirt or pair of shoes at one of our specialty shops. This is a huge project for our city.”

The Cook family, who own Cook’s Pest Control, formed a non-profit foundation to raise money and build the museum. The Cook family is contributing $7 million toward the project. First Community Development is coordinating a $10 million capital campaign to fund the remaining construction costs, exhibits and initial operating expenses.

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