New vision for rec complex
by Tom Coombe
Plans for a community recreation facility in Ely have both progressed and evolved.
Perhaps by the end of the year, the state-owned Revenue Building in Ely’s business park will be sold to a group that has been working for years to develop the project.
The facility may eventually be expanded to include a swimming pool, but for now the main components are a recreation and fitness center as well as a child care operation that could serve as many as 40 children.
“Hopefully we’ll be opening the building by late spring or early summer with some tenants in there,” said Dave Marshall, a board member with the Ely Area Community Foundation.
The EACF has taken over the project and includes many of the key principals of the now-dissolved Ely Regional Community Complex group.
While the project is under a new umbrella and continues to evolve, Marshall and several others who worked for years to advance the ERCC project remain involved.
Pledges of $5 million and $1 million to support the recreation center project also remain and some of those funds will be used to buy the building for $1,035,000.
That’s where the city of Ely is getting involved, serving as a conduit between the state and the non-profit EACF to coordinate the sale and serve as a fiscal agent.
“The idea would be that the Ely Area Community Foundation would purchase the building after the city purchases it from the state,” said Marshall.
In addition to buying the building, the EACF could pump as much as another $1 million to renovate the facility over the next several months and get it ready for its new use.
Marshall said the building needs a new roof and other upgrades needed to accommodate both a fitness/recreation area and a child care facility.
The EACF has engaged architects as well as legal and accounting help in its efforts to move forward and it has reached out to U.S. Aquatics to develop plans for future expansion to include a swimming pool.
A swimming pool was at the heart of earlier plans to develop a community recreation complex and architects have determined that the Revenue Building could be renovated and expanded to make room for a pool.
“We have determined there’s room on site,” said Marshall. “We have started to work toward that, mainly what it would look like and what we need in terms of amenities and put some dollar figures to it. We’ve got an architect and we’re working with an attorney out of Duluth. We recognize that we don’t have all the expertise and we are bringing other people in to help make this work.”
Current plans call for the EACF to operate the facility and serve as a landlord to tenants who would provide various services.
“There may be for-profit and non-profit and we’ll have to work with that,” said Marshall. “And it’s possible at the end of the day that some portions of the building will be paying property taxes and some will not.”
Part of the facility, as currently envisioned, would house “a fitness center where people can go and work out,” Marshall said. It could include an indoor track.
A child care facility is also envisioned for the building and those plans mesh with efforts by the city of Ely to expand child care availability in the region.
“The group has been working for quite some time with the intentions of getting a child care component to this project, and it’s a big portion of the project,” said Harold Langowski, the city’s clerk-treasurer and operations center.
Ely could be in line for as much as $500,000 in a federal appropriation, through the United Way, to advance a child care project. It’s possible those funds could be part of an initiative to make child care available at the Revenue Building.
“It’s a major undertaking,” said Langowski. “It would be a facility for up to 40-plus spots for full-time day care from infant all the way up.”
A potential child care tenant continues to work with the EACF and Langowski added “it sounds like this group is very involved and knows what the demand is, and they are working on a business plan and the proper channels to get that completed.”
According to Langowski, both federal funds as well as the Iron Range Resource and Rehabilitation Board could be involved in spurring the child care initiative.
The city is expected to have further public discussions about the project in the next several weeks, and Marshall indicated that the sale of the building could close in early-December.
Renovations would follow with an eye toward opening in May or June.
That may be just the opening step in completing a project that has captured public attention for several years.
“The dream of the second phase would be to add a swimming pool to that complex down the road,“said Marshall.
Plans for a complex that might include a swimming pool, track and other amenities have stalled for several years.
First, a bid to put the complex on school grounds faced opposition and was eventually withdrawn.
In late-2018, the ERCC, the St. Paul YMCA and Ely-Bloomenson Community Hospital came together to explore a partnership that might put the complex on or near the hospital campus.
Those efforts also paused, with the hospital pulling back from plans for a major expansion and the YMCA dissolving its association during the Covid-19 pandemic.
New life for the initiative came earlier this year when the state announced plans to sell a building which, for more than two decades, housed collection agents employed by the Minnesota Department of Revenue. Nearly all of Ely’s Revenue employees have worked from home since early-2020 and eased the need for a large office facility.
Built in 1999, the Revenue Building encompasses about 16,000 square feet.
Earlier renderings of a recreation complex called for as much as 40,000 square feet of space, and an expansion of the Revenue Building to house a swimming pool would bring total footage closer to that mark.