Exactly five years after Montrose voters went to the polls to decide on a 0.3 percent sales tax (supplemented with Montrose property tax) to fund construction of the 80,000-square-foot community center, Grand Junction voters will get a chance do the same thing.
In April 2019, Grand Junction voters will decide whether to devote a 0.39 percent sales tax (39 cents on $100 purchased) to fund the construction of a 98,000-square-foot community center, develop 75 acres of Matchett Park and the renovate the old Orchard Mesa pool.
Similar to Grand Junction, several efforts to fund a community center in Montrose fell short, but each time the plan improved and support grew. Fiscally-conservative Montrose voters, similar to those in Grand Junction, demanded a strong plan to ensure effective investment of public resources to make a dramatic positive impact on the quality of life.
I was first involved in the effort to fund a community center in 2012. The citizens task force, through input of a feasibility study, found the community resoundingly preferred sales tax as the primary funding source. Other Western Slope communities successfully used sales tax to fund construction including Delta in 1992 (1 percent sales tax), Durango in 1999 (0.5 percent sales tax), Cortez in 2006 (0.5 percent sales tax), Gunnison in 2007 (1 percent sales tax) and Fruita in 2008 (1 percent sales tax).
We saw how the community center in Durango (and other Western Slope community centers), changed the community in a fundamentally positive way (see Sentinel column by Durango Parks and Recreation Director Cathy Metz). Skeptics in Montrose argued Montrose is unlike Durango given Durango's younger demographic and political differences. Montrose certainly has an older demographic and strong fiscal conservatism, much more similar to Grand Junction.
The 2012 effort fell short by only a few hundred votes. The citizens' group got right back up and worked closely with the Montrose Recreation District to improve the plan. After listening to citizen input, the plan was approved by voters in 2014. Seventy percent of those who cast ballots in our successful election were over the age of 65, which may be similar to turnout in Grand Junction.
The Montrose Community Center has exceeded the community's expectation by tripling the number of annual pass holders projected and raising $6 million in grants. This non-tax funding built a larger facility and provided additional improvements to our parks and recreation system. Since then, many communities across the state and many out-of-state have reached out to us to learn our story, including Grand Junction.
I first met Andreya Krieves, the chair of the Grand Junction community center campaign, three years ago when our facility was a year from completion. We have continued regular correspondence as their plan evolved. Rest assured, the committee and my fellow parks and recreation colleagues at the Grand Junction Parks and Recreation Department have done their homework and assembled a strong plan. Also, the spirit of their citizen's group seems unmistakably like the Friends of the Montrose Community Center. By the way, that was the most important factor that made the Montrose Community Center happen: the volunteer citizen leaders who gave of themselves to improve their community for everyone.
The Montrose Community Center opened on Jan. 27, 2017. When it opened, we had 616 annual pass holders. Now we have 8,216 annual pass holders in a community of 20,000. Ninety percent of these members are seniors or families. Daily attendance is over 1,000 people, which doesn't include program participants or spectators. Cost recovery (operational revenue/operation expense) is 100 percent. This limits the burden on taxpayers and enables continued savings like we did for initial construction, for facility expansion such as a future outdoor pool.
The improvement in our parks and recreation system is a primary reason why we are now thriving as a community. Colorado's parks and recreation network has also been fundamental to Colorado's increasing prosperity. In light of the success of our facility, I believe a Grand Junction Community Center will also be extremely successful, especially given your larger population.
Now that the Montrose Community Center has been in operation for two years, Grand Junction is the only sizeable community on the Western Slope lacking a community center. But fear not. Being late to the party has its advantages. We gleaned lessons from those that went before us and mimic their successes and avoid any mistakes. Fruita and Durango were the models for us and we hope to be a model for Grand Junction.
Ken Sherbenou is the Montrose Recreation District executive director.