Joint Powers cool to rec center

by Tom Coombe
Leaders of Ely area government entities aren’t sold on plans for a new community recreation complex.
Brief discussion at a Sept. 14 meeting of local leaders revealed caution, skepticism and some outright opposition to the plan to develop a facility that could be as large as 50,000 square feet and cost as much as $12 million.
No formal action was taken at the meeting of the Ely Area Community Economic Development Joint Powers Board, but at times discussion mirrored ongoing talks by Ely school officials, who are weighing a request to support locating the facility on the west side of the district campus.
Joint Powers members charged there remain too many unanswered questions, including the source of construction and operating revenues and what, if any, impact the project would have on local taxpayers.
“You need more data,” said Ely Mayor Chuck Novak. “That’s all I am saying. If we can find a solution to make it viable, then I’m all in.”
Officials from Morse and Fall Lake townships were more skeptical, with Morse supervisor Bob Berrini questioning public support and whether the proposal would require a local sales tax.
Mary Tome, a supervisor in Fall Lake, said she was concerned about how the proposed Ely Regional Community Complex would impact existing businesses.
“I have a problem with a non-profit,” said Tome. “They don’t pay any taxes.”
Joint Powers members put the item on the agenda for their meeting at the Grand Ely Lodge to discuss whether the group would get behind an effort to seek state bonding funds for construction.
That, according to Novak, is “too premature” for the upcoming legislative session given the formative nature of the proposal.
Earlier this year, an anonymous donor pledged $5 million for the project, and additional contributions likely, according to ERCC chairman Jeff Sundell.
School board members, however, have been reluctant to endorse the west campus site amid concerns over financing and the district’s role in the project.
A study session and subsequent special school board meeting Monday night could yield a vote, and the ERCC has asked the school board “to quantify the value the ERCC would bring to the students and the district.”
As currently envisioned, a recreation complex would include a swimming pool, gymnasium and weight/cardio/fitness room, amenities ranked at the top of the list by area residents who responded to a survey two years ago.
School board chairman Ray Marsnik cited the same survey to Joint Powers membeers, indicating that “57 percent did not want their taxes raised,” to pay for the complex.
While the ERCC board includes a cross-section of community leaders, Joint Powers members distanced themselves from the group.
Berrini said that Morse residents involved were not appointed by nor are they representing the township.
Novak, meanwhile, said that “everyone (on the ERCC board) is a volunteer on this, including (city clerk) Harold (Langowski).”
The ERCC has identified next steps including the finalization of a financial pro forma for the complex with a firm that specializes in developing similar facilities, and engaging a professional management firm that would run day-to-day operations at the complex.
The school location has been tabbed as the number-one site for the complex because of its central location and “synergies” that would result by putting the facility on campus with a close proximity to children.