Wednesday, October 27, 2004

Should city give land to Y?

YMCA officials say Ketchum vote might determine project?s fate

Express Staff Writer

The footprint of the proposed Wood River Community YMCA complex would occupy approximately 1.5 acres of the city?s Park and Ride lot. An additional 1.1 acres surrounding the facility would be landscaped and maintained as open space by the YMCA. YMCA graphic

Ketchum voters on Nov. 2 will be asked whether they want the city to confer to the Wood River Community YMCA approximately one-quarter of the city-owned Park and Ride lot to accommodate a state-of-the-art recreational complex and community center.

Although the vote is not a referendum on whether the project should be developed, it will likely determine the fate of a decade-old initiative to build a public-activities facility in central Ketchum.

The advisory ballot question will ask Ketchum voters if the city should ?enter into a 99-year lease for $1 a year with the YMCA for a recreational and cultural facility to be built at no cost to the city on approximately 25 percent of the Park and Ride lot.?

At issue is a plan by the Ketchum-based YMCA organization to build an approximately 85,000-square-foot structure on the vacant Park and Ride lot, located at the intersection of Warm Springs and Saddle roads.

The planned two-level YMCA structure would include an ice rink that converts to a 2,500-seat indoor event center, two indoor pools, a gymnasium, a fitness center, a climbing gym, a day-care center and numerous other facilities.

As proposed, the Wood River Community YMCA would be built without the use of public funds, but would benefit from the use of the public land. The project is estimated to cost $16 million, with $12 million needed to build the structure and an additional $4 million to cover planning costs and to create an endowment to sustain operations.

To date, $6 million has been raised for the project. YMCA officials have said they intend to break ground on the building next spring, if the long-term land lease can be acquired.

YMCA leaders have expressed confidence they can raise the additional $10 million from local benefactors if the land is acquired.

The 5.9-acre Park and Ride lot was purchased by the city with intentions of eventually developing the land for a variety of uses, including recreation, parking and cultural activities.

The ballot question asks voters if they want the city to allow the YMCA to take control of about 1.5 acres of the site, with approximately 4.4 acres remaining open for parking and other uses.

The city in recent weeks has contemplated developing parts of the site with affordable housing and public parking facilities. The city has also entertained a proposal to install the historic Congregational church, most recently the home of Louie?s restaurant, on one end of the site to serve as a small community center and museum.

The ballot measure was essentially forced by a group of citizens led by former Ketchum Mayor Larry Young, who headed an initiative petition that demanded the city seek voter approval before giving any land or public funding to the YMCA project.

Young filed the petition in response to a 2003 City Council resolution to ?match the initial $3 million of charitable pledges (for the YMCA) by timely seeking city voter approval of a revenue bond in the amount of $3 million.?

The city resolution also declared that ?a portion of the Park and Ride property is reserved to the Wood River Y? and could be leased to the organization for $1 per year.

Young gathered 163 signatures in support of his petition demanding a vote, legally forcing the City Council to act on his demands.

In August, the council agreed to put the matter on the November ballot, and in doing so abandoned any plan to seek $3 million in public funding for the YMCA project.

Teresa Beahen, executive director of the Wood River Community YMCA, said the YMCA is not seeking any public funding from the city to build the structure or support its programs.

Nonetheless, some Ketchum residents have recently voiced strong opposition to the YMCA project. Some have argued that developing the facility would not be the best use of the land while others have said the complex belongs in the southern Wood River Valley, where many working residents and families with children live.

In response to concerns about the location, Beahen said a need for a recreation complex exists in both ends of the valley. Particular needs in the Ketchum area include an ice rink, a swimming pool and a recreation/community center, she said.

The proposed Ketchum facility would be open to all residents and visitors. As proposed, adults could acquire membership for $60 per month and families could do so for $90 per month. However, the fees would be adjusted on an income-based, sliding scale that could offer memberships for as little as $5 per month.

Cynthia Murphy, chairwoman of the Wood River Community YMCA Board of Directors, said a lease for part of the Park and Ride site is critical to the future of the project.

?We have the opportunity to put it all in one place,? she said. ?To us, this is the time.?

For the advisory measure to pass, a simple majority of voters must vote in its favor.

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