TELLURIDE - Nana Naisbitt on Tuesday described the vision her organization has for its future in Telluride: a vision including a 30,000-square-foot science facility, most likely on the east end of main street, that would attract leading scientists from across the globe to convene and collaborate, in Telluride.
The likeliest site for the potential facility is a parking lot immediately north of the Telluride Post Office, although, Naisbitt emphasizes, other sites are under consideration.
Addressing the Telluride Town Council, Naisbitt, executive director of the Telluride Science Research Center, spoke about TSRC’s past, present and future, and emphasized the benefits a permanent campus could have not only on Telluride’s “intellectual capital,” but also on its economy and community.
The TSRC currently runs nine weeks during the summer and is housed at the Telluride Intermediate School. This past summer, according to Naisbitt, over 1,000 different scientists from over 400 different international universities, research centers and companies came to Telluride through TSRC.
Naisbitt conservatively suggested that the scientists bring about a million dollars to the local economy annually. To arrive at this number she surmised that each scientist spends about $1,000 per person during her visit. Nasibitt estimated that if you include family, the scientists bring another 500 people.
“And this is without trying,” she said. “In the future we are going to push the family thing more. The scientists don’t just come for a night, they come for five days. The million dollar number is conservative; it doesn’t track money to the Telluride Academy, restaurants and retail sales.”
“If we can bring 1,000 scientists in nine weeks, what can we do in 52 weeks?” she asked council.
Answering her own question, Naisbitt stated that the organization’s projections show that, within two years of having a facility, TSRC could bring in as many as 4,000 scientists.
“Right now we’re running at capacity,” she said. “But, with a full-year facility, we could get competitive in the small conference business and in providing winter workshops.”
Naisbitt says that TSRC is unique because it works from the ground up. The scientists decide what they want to explore and they assemble the participants. TSRC already has the attention of the SOFI project, an initiative to create a sustainable liquid fuel created through artificial photosynthesis.
Michael Wasielewski, a Northwestern University professor and director of the Argonne Northwestern Solar Energy Research Center, spoke to a group of potential donors about the value of an international science facility in Telluride in early August. He explained that for teams of scientists to work together to solve a societal problem, such as developing sustainable energy resources, they need a place to convene; they need face time.
“SOFI is a great example of the type of institutes we can attract,” Naisbitt said. “Telluride is a walking town, its energy is open, creative and positive. Part of the scientists' schedule is group hikes, [on which] they do nothing but talk about science. They immerse themselves in a particular problem for a week, they are with all these people from different international universities, and they want to solve it.”
“And we spoil the hell out of them,” she added.
At Tuesday’s council meeting, architect Eric Cummings joined Naisbitt to explain the building plan, designed for the post-office lot, which includes thirty or so classrooms, a small auditorium to gather, a place to feed and coffee the scientists, living spaces for scientists in residence and employees, a visitors center, and permanent headquarters for TSRC’s sister organization, The Pinhead Institute, which Naisbitt founded.
“An important part of the program is flexibility,” Cummings said about the facility design. “Science changes and technology changes constantly. The design is meant to meet these changes. It needs to be flexible in its sizes of classrooms, offices, etc.”
Cummings and Naisbitt added that the facility would be open to other organizations when it wasn’t being used by the scientists.
The Telluride Film Festival “found us when they even heard this breathed,” Naisbitt told council. She added that Cummings had already spent time with TFF staffers discussing screen sizes and accommodating film lectures.
As Naisbitt finished her presentation, Councilmember Ann Brady asked, “What do you need?”
“Town Council could be incredibly helpful in giving us your support,” Naisibitt answered.
Choking up, she added, “This project is not about what TSRC brings to Telluride, or what concessions the town can make, but what we can build as a community. There are so many benefits to everybody.”
Members of council gave Naisbitt their verbal support, with Mayor Stu Fraser stating, “It won’t be easy, but you have the support of this entire council. That means a resolution, then when it comes down to dotting the “i’s” we are willing to work with you folks on this – it’s important to this community.”
Naisbitt explained that TSRC’s next step is fundraising and that, although she has some potentially large donors, she wants to simultaneously initiate a grassroots effort where everyone in town could give something, “even as little as $5.”
“It’s going to take a community to make this happen,” Naisbitt said. “We want everyone in town who believes in this to donate. I would like to show any major donor that we have the town’s support.”
With that, Councilmember David Oyster, walked over and gave her the first $5.