Planetarium Group Still Vies for Permanent Spot

Texas Museum of Science and Technology considers Cedar Park home temporary

Planetarium Group Still Vies for Permanent Spot
Image courtesy of Gunther Von Hagens' body worlds

When the Austin Planetarium group announced that it would open its Texas Museum of Science and Technology in Cedar Park instead of in the city center, it seemed like another loss for the state capital. However, Executive Director Torvald Hes­sel argues that the location makes it more likely than ever that Downtown will get a permanent science center. He said, "The conversation has completely changed."

Getting this far has been a bumpy 12-year process, but Hessel called the opening of this temporary home "a roller coaster." The group announced on Feb. 15 it would be opening its new facility (see "Austin Finally Gets a Planetarium (Sorta)," Feb. 16): they took over the former SoccerPlex on March 1, and were ready to open their first exhibit, the traveling "Body Worlds" show, on March 20. Hessel admits that it doesn't look like the average science museum so far, with the marking of the old indoor soccer pitch still on the floor. "When people arrive, they're asking, where have I come?" But as people exit, he said, "they're really impressed."

There is still work to be done, including the construction of a planetarium, but Hessel restates that this is an interim facility. The current lease is for three years, with an option for two more, meaning the museum could remain at its current Cedar Park home until 2020. Hessel called the process to date "a humongous chicken-and-egg situation," with donors and policy makers wary of backing the museum because there wasn't a museum to back. "Now the doors are open," he said, "we have the world's most successful traveling exhibition, and we're nearing 30,000 visitors in the first three months."

While he's already getting more traction for the permanent museum, it's still a challenging proposal requiring a property around the size of the Bob Bullock Texas State His­tory Museum. The project's original desired site, the empty lot opposite the Bullock and the Blanton Museum of Art, now seems destined to become more state offices. So now the team is looking for other locations around Austin. "Right now, we are open to any and all suggestions," he said. Whatever the eventual location, Hessel's intent is that it will be a world-class facility. "We are going to be of the level that the state of Texas will be proud of our museum in its capital."

TxMOST CEO Torvald Hessel contacted the Chronicle to clarify that the museum is looking at locations beyond Downtown Austin, including potentially within Cedar Park. He said, "If it weren't for the generosity of the City of Cedar Park, and its City Council, we would still be operating out of a classroom and over 30,000 Central Texans wouldn't have experienced the Body Worlds exhibit."

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Her Body, Her Choice
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Body Worlds, Planetarium, Texas Museum of Science and Technology, Cedar Park, Torvald Hessel

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