Town Board Special Meeting: July 30, 20188 min read
TL;DR: The Board has decided to press pause on the Rough Riders / Sports Stable Community Center partnership, and will not be sending a referendum vote on a tax increase / bond issue to the ballot. Instead, the Board would like to take more time to evaluate options and further understand the desires of residents. Full recap below.
On Monday, the Town Board had a special session to discuss the proposed Rough Riders Community Center. At the July 9 meeting (which I blogged about here), the Board agreed to begin meeting weekly to discuss the proposal in preparation for potentially putting it on the ballot in November. With last week’s regularly scheduled board meeting focused on several new development plans, the community center wasn’t really discussed, so Monday’s meeting was the first session dedicated entirely to the community center.
The discussion began by focusing on the planned phone survey that would go out to residents to gauge support. The goal of the survey was to get 400 respondents, and there was a lot of discussion over how best to representatively poll (e.g., focus on landlines vs cell phones, pull from voter registrations). Trustee Kevin Ryan suggested telling the survey company that the Board is concerned about selection bias and letting them figure it out – which ended that part of the discussion.
Next, the Board reviewed the draft of proposed questions for the survey and had a lot of potential changes. Trustee Sandy Pennington wanted to limit the introductory questions and keep the survey short, in hopes of getting a higher survey completion rate. She believed that the key questions were “which financing model most appeals” and “would you become a member” – and I agree that those get at the heart of what the Board is trying to poll in this survey.
However, there was one question Trustee Pennington wanted to cut that I disagree with: “Are you aware of the recreation center proposal?” Although this may seem like an introductory question to get respondents comfortable, I think the answer would provide an extremely valuable data point for our town. It doesn’t help us decide whether or not to move forward with this particular proposal, but it does help us understand how engaged citizens are and how much they hear about town proceedings – which could be very valuable for future initiatives. Thinking along the same lines as me, Trustee Ryan pointed out that some data will be valuable even if we don’t decide to go forward with the Community Center proposal, and points out that as long as we’re surveying, we might as well drive maximum benefit.
Trustee Mark Lacis said that he’s informally asked neighbors their opinions of the proposal. Although anecdotal, he said that most people he spoke with said the Board should send it to the voters, and they also said they would vote for it… but that no one said they would use it personally. While the funding is a key question, Trustee Lacis believes the other key question is whether residents would use the facility. Unfortunately, that can be tough to drill down in a short survey. Trustee Chris Hanson pointed out it’s hard for a resident to say if they will change their membership from another facility when they don’t have all the details of the tiers and amenities; there was confusion even among the Board about each of the tiers / amenities.
There was some discussion over whether the survey should include all three financing options. Mayor Clint Folsom felt that we shouldn’t include the property tax-only option, as it was unlikely to be selected. However, Trustee Sandie Hammerly noted the importance of providing context on what the loan repayment would cost, so that residents could fully understand what they are agreeing to take on. She believes that the best way to disclose that cost would be the inclusion of the fully financed by property tax option.
Before the Board goes forward with disclosing cost, though, Trustee Hammerly thinks we need to decide on the extent of the partnership agreement. With the Rough Riders wanting nearly half of the available hours for the facility, Trustee Hammerly thought it could be best for residents to financially evaluate the proposal assuming the Rough Riders weren’t involved, and then add their rental revenue back in later. This made a lot of sense to me, given that the Rough Riders would only sign a one year lease and there would be no guarantee of a permanent partnership.
On this note, Trustee Pennington remarked that she is only in favor of moving forward if the town were to do this independently, rather than relying on an outside entity who we don’t know will be with us for the long haul. She very astutely pointed out that right now, residents have access to all the Sports Stable facilities by paying either membership or drop in fees, and asked: what do our residents get out of this (costly) collaboration? With the partnership, residents would still pay either a membership fee or drop-in fees, so what additional access do residents get through the town’s $20 million expenditure, that they wouldn’t have access to if they went to the Sport Stable as a private entity on their own ?
Parks Recreation and Open Space (PROS) Director Patrick Hammer answered that the Sports Stable has offered a 25% discount to residents on all fees, but Trustee Pennington replied that it’s not enough; we need more on our side for this to be an equitable partnership. I completely agree with this point, which has been driving my opinion of the proposal all along. If we were able to offer significantly discounted membership rates (a la Louisville Rec Center), the proposal might make sense, but if residents are paying market rates anyway, there isn’t a compelling reason for the town to invest in a private entity.
Mayor Folsom opened up the discussion at this point for public comment, and all comments were neutral to negative, with no strong supporters of the proposal.
After public comment, Trustee Lacis kicked off the second half of the Board discussion by saying that he was concerned our financial projections were not conservative enough. With a calculation that 15% of residents would need to be using the facility, he compared that to his own anecdotal meetings with residents, where everyone said they would vote for it but no one said they would use it. Trustee Lacis believes that the proposed facility would not compete with Lifetime Fitness, so we would really only be drawing current Louisville Rec Center members, or those who don’t currently have a membership (and may not be interested in getting one). Later in the conversation, Trustee Lacis pointed out that at Lifetime, there is no additional charge for most classes, whereas with this proposal, classes would cost extra. (Update: I later clarified with Lifetime – pilates classes and TEAM classes have an upcharge, but all other classes are included with membership.) PROS Director Hammer verified that when Town Staff contacted Lifetime, they said they don’t view the Superior proposal as competition for exactly this reason.
Trustee Ryan said he was concerned about the timeline in sending this to the ballot right now. Although the Sports Stable was pushing the town to partner on an aggressive timeline, Trustee Ryan doesn’t believe we’ve done our due diligence in looking into their background and understanding what we are getting vs just what we are giving up to them. Trustee Hanson replied that he was still open to more negotiations with the Sports Stable and Rough Riders to figure out how we could make it a better deal for us rather than giving up entirely.
Getting back into the numbers, Trustee Pennington pointed out that the town would be paying $20 million in overhead – and then allowing the Sports Stable to then rent the facilities from us for just $11/hour for a pool lane and $25/hour for a classroom. Essentially, we are shouldering a huge amount of overhead risk, but then allowing the biggest profit margin to go to our partners.
Trustee Lacis stated that the residents of Superior really want a rec center, and he believes that if we don’t partner with someone, we will never build one on our own. However, he also doesn’t believe that either the community or the Board is 100% behind this, and that complete support is necessary for us to move forward. So although he strongly believes in sending questions to the voters to decide for themselves, he doesn’t think we should move forward because we won’t get the support in this short time frame. Trustee Lacis said that his biggest concern is that we will send it to the voters, the voters will pass it because they want to help the town, and then the town will be saddled with an albatross that won’t be successful. Mayor Folsom agreed, and said he does not support moving forward right now, because we won’t get everything solved in the next month.
On a more positive note, Trustee Hanson said that while he doesn’t support moving forward, he wants the Board to have an active plan for next steps, rather than just deferring a community center indefinitely. In particular, he wants to see the Board proactively put together a plan for the civic space in the Town Square (this was designated in the original development plan with Ranch Capital). The Board agreed that this kind of proactive long-term planning is needed, and with that, the decision was made not to push this proposal forward.
A rather abrupt ending to a long-discussed topic, but I’m happy with the outcome and think it was the right decision. Your thoughts? Comment below!