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Rec center proposal gains momentum

Staff Writer

A public input meeting concerning the feasibility of constructing a new community recreation center in downtown Pagosa Springs was conducted recently by the town’s parks and recreation department, and while turnout wasn’t nearly as large as expected, the feedback was almost universally positive, despite several references to another major town project that was soundly defeated by a recent popular vote — the Reservoir Hill development plan.

Less than half of the chairs in the room at the Ross Aragon Community Center were occupied when Parks and Recreation Director Tom Carosello began the presentation.

“A lot of people have called my office and asked, ‘Whose idea was the rec center?’ and I have responded, ‘Well, in a lot of ways, it was your idea.’ We did a survey in 2006. It was recreation oriented and some of you may remember taking it. It was circulated countywide. In that survey the rec center scored very high. It was second only to the acquisition and preservation of open spaces as a priority.”

Carosello proceeded to explain the history of the Pagosa Springs rec center debate, including the discussion of what features people said they wanted the facility to have and how people felt about an increase in sales tax as a means to pay for it. Carosello described the high number of people who, on a scale of one to five, gave the rec center a three or above on the 2006 survey.

“We did a series of public meetings to make sure this wasn’t just something that town staff wanted or town council wanted. What we want to know from you guys tonight and as we progress over the next couple of months is, have those numbers changed?”

The next part of the presentation was given by Ken Berendt, an architect with the Denver firm of Barker, Rinker and Seacat, who showed slides of his drawings and offered a description of the various features of the facility, which included a six-lane lap pool, a leisure pool with waterslides and playground equipment, a daycare room, a classroom/party room, a rock-climbing wall, a fitness studio, a gymnasium, an indoor track and a weight room.

Mark Weiler then stood up and explained the financial aspect of the project, describing a recent breakfast he had in Denver with the CEO of Wells Fargo Bank. He described the municipal bond market, the historically low interest rate, the possible contributions Wal-Mart and Tractor Supply would make to the town’s future tax base and what it would mean to the average consumer to have a penny on the dollar increase in sales tax.

“The townspeople, the community, has to vote on this,” Weiler asserted. “This isn’t just somebody’s idea that they fantasized about somewhere. The community must vote, so it will be something like the last vote we had, where the population said, ‘This is what we think. This is what we would like to see in our community.’ Everybody has a chance to have their say. Everybody. There are no closed-door, backroom deals.”

Weiler also mentioned the intergovernmental agreement that the Pagosa Springs Sanitation and General Improvement District has worked out with the Pagosa Area Water and Sanitation District to build a pipeline and pumping stations to move the town’s sewage up to the Vista wastewater treatment facility. This agreement will allow the town to rehabilitate the current sewage lagoon site, which is located south of Yamaguchi Park and across the street from the high school’s athletic field — in other words, the perfect site for a rec center.

Finally, Kathie Lattin, who emphasized her involvement in this project was as a private citizen and not as a member of town council, asked for questions and comments from the audience. “Our point tonight is just to get out to the community all of the information that is relevant and all the numbers that we’re talking about.

“You need to realize that this was a vision that originally came up in 2005. One of the comments we have heard is that people want to just take care of existing projects. This is one of them. I took it off the shelf and I dusted it off, and I want to ask the community, is this the time for the rec center to go forward?

“I know you all have a bunch of questions and we are going to do our best to answer each and every question tonight. We want the proper information to go out to the public. We don’t want people guessing. We don’t want people saying, ‘Well, I heard.’”

Lattin’s main complaint about the campaign leading up to the Reservoir Hill vote was what she characterized as false or misleading information being given to the public. On April 23, the town’s electorate overwhelmingly voted to amend the home rule charter so that no mechanized amusement rides could be built or operated on Reservoir Hill without passing another vote of the people. At that time, Lattin accused the Friends of Reservoir Hill and its supporters of going door-to-door and spreading lies; she claims people were told that town council planned on putting in a Ferris wheel and a Go-Kart track on the hill, among other things.

At last week’s meeting, Ron Gustafson was the first audience member to speak up. He asked if this issue would involve a vote by just the town’s residents, or if county residents would also have a say in the matter.

Weiler responded by describing a conversation he had with Mayor Ross Aragon back when the issue of a rec center first came up. The county was struggling with finances at the time, and the mayor suggested the town buy the county-owned property across Hot Springs Boulevard from Town Hall in order to help the county out. The mayor reportedly told Weiler, “If their end of the boat is sinking, eventually the water will get to our end of the boat.”

Weiler went on to advocate for creating a recreation district, which would include the entire county.

Ken Levine, whose family owns land near the proposed rec center site, commented, “You said it is for the local residents, but it’s also for the tourists. I just went to Breckenridge, and I worked out at the gym there, and I had a great time. I think it is going to bring younger, more active people here. This is something we really need, just to keep up with what the other towns in Colorado are doing.”

Cappy White, owner of a downtown business and a member of the town planning commission, made two suggestions to increase the chance of getting the tax increase past the voters: make sure there was a sunset clause so that, after the rec center is paid off, the sales tax rate goes back down, and make it so a sales tax increase does not apply to the purchase of food.

“I think it is a beautifully thought-out facility,” White added. “However, I would hate to be the only town in Colorado that had this kind of facility, but didn’t have trash cans on main street. There are no public trash cans on that end of town, and that’s just a small thing, but I’m trying to make a point. I think our beds need to be made before we go ahead with spending seventeen million dollars.”

“What about bundling some of our other recreational projects with this?” Archuleta County commissioner Michael Whiting asked. “I heard you mention engaging the county as well as the town. It takes a whole community to make stuff like this work. Maybe there’s an opportunity here to bundle other projects, like the Town to Lakes Trail. This rec center will say to people, ‘We are a recreational community,’ but an unfinished bike path between uptown and downtown says, ‘Eh, not so much.’ Let’s at least have a conversation about completing some of these other unfinished recreation project along with this one.”

Whiting went on to suggest that while Pagosa Country is trying to brand itself as a destination for active, athletic type people, it is also trying to promote itself as an advocate for renewable sources of energy. He asked Berendt if the engineering plans could include the use of geothermal and solar power. Berendt agreed it was a good idea.

Cindy Gustafson asked if the town’s rec center would be open to everyone and if the entrance fee would be the same for both residents and non-residents of the town. Carosello explained that rec centers in other town such as Durango and Cortez charge the same rates to everyone. When the topic of the Pagosa Lakes Property Owners Association rec center came up, Weiler explained that, according to the PLPOA bylaws, that facility is for association members only; it is not open to the public.

Several other complaints were aired about the PLPOA rec center, indicating that, even for people who live in PLPOA and have a membership to that facility, it becomes so overcrowded during the summer and holiday peak seasons that it is almost impossible to use. In addition, the claim was made that it is designed for adults and most kids aren’t interested in using it. On a side note, a clear majority of the participants in last Saturday’s PLPOA election voted to approve their rec center expansion project.

“I think it’s going to be a real uphill fight,” White asserted. “There are going to be a lot of disgruntled citizens in the county who feel like they don’t have a voice on something that affects them. We need to think long and hard about excluding them from the vote, even though Kathie makes a good point about some of them maybe voting against it because they are already paying their dues for the PLPOA rec center. There are probably just as many, or more, who would be enthusiastic about this project and would be willing to pay for it.

“You asked earlier if we would be willing to pay for it. I am willing to speak …” White began to put his arm around his wife, who was sitting next to him in the audience, but then he made eye contact with her and changed direction in mid-sentence “… for myself,” White paused while the room erupted in laughter, “when I say that I would be willing to pay a penny and a half on the dollar for this. I think it is that important. If I was moving to another town, I would make sure they had a really good, functioning rec center and lots of bike trails.”

In the end, White also admitted he would be willing to let the town slide on installing a public trash can in front of his store if it meant having a nice rec center for downtown residents to use.

ed.fincher@pagosasun.com

This story was posted on August 1, 2013.
  • ajpagosa

    What a bunch of clowns. This project was dreamed up in the peak of the housing bubble. Haven’t things changed a little since then?

    Running a gym is a tough business, ask anyone who has or just look at the ones in town. One recently went under and another changed hands. There is not enough of a use base here for this to make sense, and Pagosa Lakes already has a rec center.

    Please stop dreaming up stupid projects to justify tax increases. In fact, I would like to tax @ 100% the salary of any city/county employee who proposes another one. That and confiscate all their net worth and hold it in escrow against mysterious cost increases.

    • Brian Griffin

      You sound like the typical white, scared Republican. A project like this may or may not be feasible, but if it’s built it will be a boon to the community in ways that obviously exceed your narrow-minded philosophies.

      • ajpagosa

        And you sound like….someone who pays no taxes and loves spending other peoples money. And had no intelligent response when challenged regarding never ending tax and spend policies, except tiresome racial epithets and insults. I thought you were the tolerant ones? Help me out here.

        There is no business case for this. There are already 4 or 5 gyms or rec facilities in this town, and limitless outdoor rec facilities. This may also run some gyms out of business. The only people benefiting from this will be the contractors taking bids.

        Please do your homework on the finances, the people who proposed it clearly did not. But liberals usually aren’t very good at math, maybe we should build a math center first. Oh wait, those are called schools and they cant even figure out how to run them on budget very well either.

        You need to come up with a different answer than more taxes every time something shiny and new catches your eye. You are tapping out a finite resource, and the People are getting Very Annoyed.

        • Brian Griffin

          Ah, touched a nerve, I see. In case you missed it, I posted that the rec center may or may not be feasible. There are certainly some questions regarding the cost of operating such a facility, and those will have to be addressed. But give up with the “people are getting very annoyed” line of crap. If I recall, the country re-elected a “tax and spend liberal” a few months back, so I guess some folks are O.K. with paying a little more taxes if it benefits the entire populace. As usual, you Reps can’t fathom such a concept unless you see a direct benefit for YOURSELF only. For instance, you see no value in a rec center for yourself, so you dismiss the entire concept as worthless. Your party is fading fast, but keep up the good fight.

          • ajpagosa

            Too much weed/meth impairs critical thinking, as you clearly demonstrate.

            The proposal is poorly thought out, and places a tax burden on people who already pay for a rec center @ PLPOA. If you city folks want a rec center by all means come up with a fair way to fund it, out of YOUR pockets. But in an area with so much outdoor rec available, most of it already free, it makes no sense to spend scarce tax resources on facilities only a few people would use.

            But by all means prove me wrong, so do a careful feasibility study, cost benefits, demographics and market analysis. Anyone with a brain starting a business would. But somehow you haven’t, you just think more taxes on everyone (but you) will fix everything. We aren’t your parents and you don’t live in the basement getting high anymore freeloading off the rest of us.

            If a carefully unbiased study it supports it, then if you want and they want tax non-PLPOA city residents extra, and charge them membership fees. We do that here in PLPOA, I pay a total of 450/yr to use our rec center.

            I see no reason why I should pay for yours too. Especially when you have such an arrogant entitlement attitude towards OPM.

          • Brian Griffin

            Hahahaha….did you not read the article, specifically the part where it mentions that a survey was done and that the rec center concept did/does have support among local voters? Pay attention. Over half of the people who answered the survey even indicated they would consider a sales tax increase to pay for it. By the way, if you’re dumb enough to pay $450 per year for an outdated weight room and stuffy pool at PLPOA’s center, well…. You could join Durango’s rec center for much less, but you’d have to swim with the “liberals” in La Plata County. Or you could try Cortez (yes, they have a real rec center too, and didn’t think a penny on the dollar in sales tax increases was too much to pay.) [ ] Oh, and the county voted to legalize it a bit more, too, in case you missed that.

          • ajpagosa

            I read the entire article, of course people vote for stuff that other people pay for.

            PLPOA is a good fit for my needs, esp transportation wise. I think you are lost in a fantasy world as far as the economics of this. And the over generalizations about people who don’t share your political beliefs. You kind of have to be responsible and think clearly to earn enough money to have losers like you want to tax it all away.

          • Brian Griffin

            You’re still a bit salty about the last election, obviously. I don’t want to raise anyone’s taxes, but how else do you pay for a facility like this? If there is support, it should at least be put to a vote, and a sales tax increase would be most equitable because about half of that revenue would be paid by tourists/nonlocals. Then YOU could use a rec center paid for by SOMEONE ELSE, at least in part, and pay a much lower membership rate for a much better facility. If an outdated weight room and stuffy pool fit your needs, great. But for most folks, it doesn’t do.

          • ajpagosa

            Again, you’re not making good judgement here, and your commentary is very prejudiced/uninformed. I don’t care about the last election. Make a good business case for a rec center and let’s build one. It has not been made, and as currently envisioned makes me pay twice.

            PS: I have worked in the fitness industry and understand the costs of running a gym. New and shiny is not necessarily better.

            Put up some realistic detailed numbers, no one who understands a business can make an even remotely informed decision based on what is presented here. The fact that you resort to taunts (that don’t even apply) indicates to me you have not thought this through and may not know how to.

          • Brian Griffin

            O.K., here are some numbers (I’ve been in contact with the “clowns” proposing this: Estimated cost is $18 million. Estimated annual O&M is approx $1 million. Estimated profit is $0. A sales tax increase would only cover the construction cost, payback on bond issue and some of the O&M. Programming revenue would make up some of that gap, the rest would have to be appropriated from town council. If you’re looking for this or any other rec center to make a profit, you’ll never get past step one. They don’t make money, but they enhance the local business environment. Simply by having one, the community becomes more attractive to businesses, possible residents, etc. Agree?

          • ajpagosa

            $18M??? Lots of luck with that. Never happen. Why not take over some of those horrible empty buildings downtown? The one right across from the library (where tho old grocery store was) would be ideal.

            BTW keep forgetting this. PLPOA rec center scheduled for major upgrades and expansion. Which as I understand is already paid for in a set aside fund.

            edit: would need to see gory details on membership #’s, fees, O&M breakdown before I could get behind anything like this. 18M initial and a bond offering? no way though.

          • Brian Griffin

            I wouldn’t call approx 2,500 square feet a “major” addition to the PLPOA rec center. You realize at a proposed size of 44,000 square feet, the proposed rec center would be modest compared to most??

          • ajpagosa

            The PLPOA upgrade is paid for, and it does not have to be big or costly to make a big difference.

            Look, a realistic legit non-deceptive proposal for a rec center funded by taxpayers at a minimum should have the following:

            Budget projections for years affected and % of budget for the project, plus prioritization of this project in it. IOW people need to know what they won’t get in order to get this, and what it will cost over time, worst case scenarios and best case.

            Detailed expenditures, allocation of facility sqft, type of equipment and activities envisioned, membership costs, fees, staffing hours, IOW what are we paying for?

            And finally some realistic impact on local economy either positive or negative. A good rec center will run all the local public and private gyms out of business. A bad one will cost the taxpayers a fortune.

            To not include this level of detail and standard budget foresight is deceptive and borderline fraudulent.

            I personally do not think this area has the user base needed to fund an 18M start up cost and ongoing 1M+ yearly O&M, without significant undisclosed cost going forward on the taxpayers AND/OR reduction in more important services. If you have a different opinion the burden of proof is on you to show it makes sense to people who actually understand a balance sheet.

            I would urge you to talk with someone who lives here in town now who oversaw the building and management of a large county rec facility in a front range county. She probably has more real world knowledge relative to what this all entails and what makes sense for a town this size than anyone within 200 or more miles of here.

            Will not name her but if she wishes to identify herself she could contribute a lot of real world experience to this discussion.

  • pagosasun

    Please be aware of the site’s commenting policy. You can find the link at the bottom of this page. No personal attacks of any kind are acceptable.

    • ajpagosa

      Then would you please edit out the hateful racial comments by Brain Griffin? Seems like a double stardard here, you are editing out in real time a lot of my commentary that is not anywhere near as offensive or insulting.

  • Dan Pickett

    I love the idea. Kind of a bummer that the PLPOA rec center and the new proposed one cannot somehow merge. The rec center in Vail is ALWAYS packed from early morning til late night. I realize Vail is different than Pagosa, but somehow it can work. The Vail rec center has discounts for locals. They had all the rec center work out and swim options, but also held CPR classes, martial arts, child care classes, and much more. I do take great advantage of the endless outdoor recreation opportunities in Pagosa, but would also be nice to have an affordable place to go and workout, swim, take certain classes, etc.. The best part, is it is another way to get our kids and others exercising instead of sitting in front of a video game or TV.