$5.5 million bond approved for planetarium renovations

City of Jackson to announce progress on Russell C. Davis Planetarium
City of Jackson to announce progress on Russell C. Davis Planetarium
Published: Oct. 14, 2021 at 2:31 PM CDT
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JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - Jackson is moving forward on plans to renovate the Russell C. Davis Planetarium, and has issued a $5.5 million bond to help fund the work.

Tuesday, the city council approved a resolution to issue the bonds, which will be used to pay for the first phase of renovations at the site.

Work on the downtown Jackson destination was expected to get underway this fall, but work has been delayed due to “shifts in construction,” said Deputy Director of Cultural Services David Lewis.

“We were hoping to have it sometime before the IBC in 2023, but given shifts in general construction delays and whatnot, we were given a (new) estimated time (of) the end of 2023,” he said.

The IBC is the International Ballet Competition, which is held every four years at Thalia Mara Hall. The planetarium is located above Lamar Street and is adjacent to the Mississippi Arts Center.

Lewis said he would like to break ground on the project in 2022.

“Everything is fluid right now. Our main concern is we want to make sure it is done well and done right,” he said. “The work our design team and exhibition team have shown us so far has been exceeding our expectations. Everybody is going to be thrilled with what we’re proposing and what will become of the planetarium.”

The renovations are being designed by CDFL, an architectural firm based in Jackson. They also did work on Thalia Mara Hall and on the Two Mississippi Museums.

Exhibitions are being done by Orlando-based Falcons Creative. Their resume boasts work on the “Heroes and Legends” exhibit at Kennedy Space Center, projects at the National Geographic Museum in Washington, D.C., and Sea World.

“They’re a great mix of education and entertainment,” he said.

Renovations are expected to cost around $12 million and include redoing the third-floor exhibit space, installing new seating and lighting, and reworking restroom facilities. New exhibits also will be installed to replace the ones that were last updated during the days of the Space Shuttle.

The last Space Shuttle Mission was in July 2011, after more than 30 years in use.

Exhibits aside, the work represents the first major renovation of Davis Planetarium in more than four decades.

Meanwhile, the second floor will be gutted and redesigned for use as an adaptive learning space, while a new atrium will be built on the first floor to better connect the facility with the arts center.

Lewis told the council that under the terms of the bond agreement, Jackson would not have to begin repaying the debt until after the planetarium reopens.

The bond would be for approximately 15 years and is expected to have a 1.83 percent interest rate. The debt would be retired from planetarium ticket and concession sales.

“Regions has provided us with a term sheet that doesn’t necessarily lock in a 1.83 percent interest rate, but based on the prevailing rates at the time when we actually execute and close, that will be rate,” said bond counsel Trey Hairston.

The bond is being awarded to the city by Regions Bank and is being structured through the Mississippi Development Bank.

Hairston said the city is going through the development bank because it will allow the city to “push the first principal payment out far enough” to give the city time to reopen the planetarium.

Projections show that once the renovations are completed, the planetarium will generate between $600,000 to $900,000 alone in ticket sales.

The council approved issuing the bonds on a 6-1 vote. The lone opposition came from Ward Three Councilman Kenneth Stokes, who asked why the city couldn’t do business with a local bank.

“We keep saying buy Jackson, buy Jackson and we have a Mississippi bank that’s not being utilized that’s headquartered here,” he said. “It just (doesn’t) seem like the right thing to do.”

The city’s bond counsel and financial advisors said Regions was chosen after several banks were solicited several months ago and that Regions submitted the best offer.

“What the city has to do is choose the best rate,” Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba said. “We certainly prefer local, but we can’t do it at any cost.”

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