Fifteen years ago, Blaine voters decided they did not want the city to issue $12 million in general obligation bonds to construct a city center that would have included a community center.
The new city hall and police headquarters that were part of the failed referendum eventually were constructed in the spot of the proposed city center on the southeast corner of Radisson Road and 109th Avenue, but the community center concept has languished.
The idea is being resurrected again by local athletic associations, but the issue in on hold for now, councilmembers said, so city staff can do more research on how other Twin Cities metro community centers were built and how operating expenses are covered.
“We’re better pulling back for now rather than doing a half-baked proposal,” Councilmember Dave Clark said.
Kevin Johnston is disappointed the council did not at least form a task force to discuss the needs of the community, but understands the city wanting more time to research.
“I just hope when we get some answers this spring that the people that were interested in the first place will step forward again,” said Johnston, who is president of the Blaine Little League organization and an at-large member on the Blaine-Spring Lake Park Athletic Association.
About a year ago, Blaine Soccer Club President Eric Peterson appeared at a Blaine Parks Commission meeting to present the need for more indoor athletics facilities in Blaine.
Johnston said he met with Peterson and they organized three meetings with representatives from 14 youth athletic associations that serve kids in Blaine.
“Everyone thinks because we have the National Sports Center, that our needs are met, but we don’t have priority scheduling,” Johnston said.
The National Sports Center is run by the state, so it must consider the needs of multiple communities. There are no basketball courts at the National Sports Center as well, meaning a lot of time is spent searching inside and outside of Blaine for court space. Johnston coaches traveling basketball as well as youth baseball and football.
He updated the council at a workshop meeting earlier this year and the city subsequently sought volunteers for a formal task force. The council was set to appoint members in early October, but the council directed staff to do more research on other community centers.
City Manager Clark Arneson said it may be April before the issue comes back to the council.
Wanting to hear from the community
The only brainstorming that has taken place to date is how to meet the year-round needs of youth sports organizations. Johnston said the city brought the “community center” phrase to the conversation, but said this center would need to meet the needs of the whole community to increase the odds of voters signing off on financing construction through a bond referendum.
Clark, Mayor Tom Ryan and Councilmember Dick Swanson said the athletic groups have been the main ones promoting it. They want to hear what the rest of the community thinks.
Ryan would like to see a community center, but he said “it has to be driven by the people.” He said the council’s focus is now on the 2014 budget, but he would love the idea of some day having a community open house.
Swanson said besides the sports groups, he is hearing nothing from the community on the community center topic.
“We see our role more as a facilitator rather than a proponent,” Clark said.
Finding a way to finance it
There are various opinions on why the 1998 referendum failed on a 10,920 no to 6,889 yes vote. The tax increase for a $100,000 home was estimated at $54 a year, for example.
Ryan and Swanson said past city surveys show that many people support a community center, but the unanswered question is how much are they willing to pay for it.
In a Blaine-Spring Lake Park Life story published after the 1998 referendum failed to pass, then-Parks and Recreation Director Jim Peterson was quoted as saying that “there was a clear message from the voters of no new taxes.”
On the same evening, voters in Andover, Ham Lake and the Spring Lake Park School District had voted down referendums, he said.
Clark heard some residents did not want to pay membership fees if they paid for the construction and that the scope of the project scared people when they were reading how other community centers were “bleeding red ink.”
“You can bond for construction costs, but you can’t bond for operations,” Swanson said.
Arneson said there are many ways a city could go to finance construction and operation of community center. He has seen Maple Grove, Plymouth and Savage contract with private companies to run the fitness areas of the facility, while the city operates the meeting spaces.
Andover partnered with the Andover YMCA.
Andover Councilmember Julie Trude, who was on the Mounds View City Council when Blaine was discuss the community center in the late 1990s, said the Andover YMCA/Community Center has been a very successful venture. She expects it is one of the top three reasons people are moving to Andover.
Trude does not feel the community center has been a financial burden on the city, but said it really helped that the YMCA is responsible for the pool.
Swanson said pools are always the most expensive aspect of a community center.
“It’s been a great addition to the community,” Trude said.
Eric Hagen is at firstname.lastname@example.org