Rec center organizers have earned their shot

We have to hand it to the dogged citizens who want to see a community/recreation center built in Grand Junction.

They threw their support behind a proposal for a quarter-cent sales tax hike to fund construction of a downtown event center. The project was hoped to inject $30 million of direct new spending annually into the local economy. Projected growth in tax revenues from this economic activity was supposed to put the city in a financial position to consider “extras,” like a recreation center.

When voters rejected that plan in April, the group behind the community center/rec center wasn’t derailed. They already had their contingency in place. A year ago, members of PLACE, People for Local and Community Enrichment, asked the city to consider building a recreation center. The council directed members to return when they could demonstrate support for the facility and had a plan for their proposal.

They returned earlier this week, 100 supporters in tow, having secured $25,000 in commitments for a feasibility study, contingent upon obtaining a matching grant from the state Department of Local Affairs. PLACE organizers pointed to survey data, a Facebook page with 1,000 followers and signatures of 2,000 supporters as proof high interest in a center.

The council agreed Monday to apply to DOLA for the matching funds, helping PLACE clear a preliminary hurdle. But many more remain. If the DOLA grant comes through, bigger challenges loom — not the least of which is devising a funding scheme. Voters have rejected a tax hike packaged as an economic stimulus. A recreation center has no economic upside. At best, it won’t be a budgetary burden — meaning fees might cover its operating costs — but it won’t create a ripple throughout the economy.

That’s not to say it doesn’t have value. The question is whether voters would consider supporting a tax measure for something that’s strictly a quality-of-life amenity with no ancillary economic benefits. The feasibility study should provide some answers — or at least a starting point to gauge public opinion.

Council members did the right thing supporting the feasibility study, even if some of them expressed reservations about the project’s long-term prospects. If the proposed center has as much support as PLACE organizers suggest, momentum will carry the plan forward, even if there’s no appetite for a tax measure. That could mean a capital fundraising campaign.

One way or another, we’ll get to the bottom of whether this is something people truly want. The feasibility study — considering needs, possible location and potential opportunities — is the first step. PLACE organizers deserve a shot to see if their vision for the community has broad support.


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