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Plans for Austin planetarium begin to dim

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TWC News: Plans for Austin planetarium begin to dim
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Getting a closer look at the stars in downtown Austin could no longer be a reality.

A proposed planetarium is among the nine projects the Sunset Advisory Commission voted to put on hold Wednesday. The delay is to re-examine the future development of the state-owned land surrounding the State Capitol, known as the Capitol Complex.

Many of the same members of the Sunset Commission had voted ‘yes’ on a 2011 bill to accept unsolicited commercialization proposals for the Capitol Complex.

Wednesday's vote is a roadblock for Torvald Hessel, the man behind the idea to build a planetarium.

"We are envisioning a state-of-the-art science and technology museum with the largest planetarium in Texas, and really one of the largest in the United States," he said.

Hessel is part of a group of investors who were hoping to build the $240 million Austin planetarium across from the Bob Bullock and Blanton museums.

"Everybody agrees this is the proper location for a facility like that-- history, art, science and technology, all in walking distance," Hessel said.

Sunset Chair Dennis Bonnen was one of 10 commissioners who voted to halt what he calls a "construction free-for-all."

"We didn't realize we were going to get these unsolicited proposals to develop any way imaginable,” he said."We have one of the most precious assets in the state—this complex--and it would be a massive error for us not to simply put the brakes on for maybe five or six months."

Bonnen says recent review of the 2011 legislation raised red flags that the process may be rushed.

"The legislators didn't understand the impact, myself included, of what was passed last session,” Bonnen said.

Hessel said even though the state may have dimmed the planetarium's lights, Austin will see the project come to fruition somewhere.

"The money is there. The partners are there. We're ready to build, and so if this fails, we will look somewhere else to build it," Hessel said.

Click here for more information on the proposed planetarium.

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