Thursday August 09, 2018
As City Center has been taking shape on Market Street, plans for a proposed recreation facility on Dorset Street have been underway. At the August 6 City Council meeting, Chair of the Recreation and Parks Committee Jennifer Kochman and Director of Recreation and Parks Holly Rees presented a vision for a new indoor recreation space located on the Champlain Oil property between Dorset Street and San Remo Drive. The proposal includes a 38,000 sq. ft. domed structure, the size of three basketball courts side by side. The 150 ft. x 240 ft. facility, designed with a synthetic floor for use as active space, could be divided and used for multiple purposes, or for one large event such as a concert or an indoor farmer’s market, and features a two-lane track around the perimeter. The proposed inflatable dome is constructed from a heavy, pliable rubberized material, and would be attached to a portion of the existing Champlain Oil building which would house the entrance and locker rooms. Office space and some multi-purpose spaces for dance and yoga classes would be located in an adjacent building.
Through a PowerPoint presentation, Kochman and Rees emphasized the city’s need for the facility and gave a brief history of the department, highlighting the department’s key values of conservation, social equity and health and wellness. Since the department’s inception in the mid-60s, there has been a growing need for dedicated indoor programming space to help fulfill their mission “to provide opportunities that enhance healthy community connections” by offering activities for active and passive recreation. Most of the programming the department offers at the moment must be held in the city’s schools, but even those spaces present challenges since they are not available during the day while school is in session. The schools also have limited availability after school and during the summer months due to camps, maintenance, and school related activities being held at those times.
The restraints the department faces due to space limitations for current programming also have the effect of missed opportunities to provide additional programming for the community. The Recreation Department and committee have received numerous requests for programming that they have not been able to fulfill such as pickleball, floor hockey, indoor walking spaces, adult basketball leagues, and open gym time for families.
In reference to these constraints, Rees said, “We are in a crisis...we have a very vibrant community, we want to enrich the programs and make them more robust to meet the needs of the community.”
Additionally, the presentation referenced the city’s comprehensive plan and TIF application where building a recreation center and providing adequate public safety, health, and recreation services were noted as priorities.
The proposed site is being billed as a cost effective solution to this problem. The total cost estimate for the project is $1,150,000. This includes the inflatable dome and related equipment, office space renovations, and architect/engineering work, as well as various paving and electrical improvements. City staff is continuing to negotiate an agreement with Tony and Brian Cairns, who sold their Champlain Oil business in July. Proposed funding sources are 30 percent TIF, the City Center reserve fund, impact fees, and a Recreation Foundation fundraising effort. The goal is to create the facility without any additional cost to taxpayers.
Details regarding the land acquisition and the finer points of funding still need to be worked out, but if the project moves forward, voters could be looking at a March 2019 ballot item.
Councilor David Kaufman, who recently founded the Recreation Foundation, said conversations began a little over a year ago with property owners Tony and Brian Cairns. Deputy City Manager Tom Hubbard said the city was looking for alternative land for an indoor facility that was less expensive than Garden or Market Street. Hubbard said he hopes an agreement can be reached within the next month or so. It could entail a lease or a capital lease (where the city would pay to own the land at the end of the term). However, there is still a lot of work to do and many moving parts in order to negotiate a successful deal.
Next steps, in addition to the land negotiations include vendor selection and further financial analysis. A presentation will be made to the Planning Commission and they will make a recommendation to the city council. Engaging in a public process will be paramount as well, as the item moves to the council for final approval.
Kaufman expressed gratitude to Tony Cairns for his generosity and willingness to be community minded. He said, “Cairns is a very generous individual and wants to do what’s best for the community.” He went on to say that the Recreation Foundation will look for a major donor or donors, “we can’t afford to miss this opportunity.”
While Tim Barritt said he liked the idea of redeveloping a parcel rather than building new, he requested to view cost comparisons and longevity estimates for the dome structure vs. a standard steel building, in order to make sure the council is doing their due diligence. While Hubbard did not have those figures on hand, he said a traditional building would certainly raise taxes.
During the public comment period, resident John Wilking noted that while the redevelopment of land is appealing, the facility could be a better fit at Veterans Memorial Park, for example, on city owned land. He suggested the council carefully consider the economic benefits and consequences of the future use of the Champlain Oil property, noting that city use of the land would eliminate the possibility of TIF income that could be generated by property taxes.
Hubbard stressed that the presentation Monday night was designed to get the conceptual plan out to the public. There are still numerous details to be ironed out as the process unfolds.
SOURCE: Corey Burdick, Correspondent