Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Time to choose: gravel parking lot or recreation center?

Just for the record, let's get this straight. The Ketchum-based YMCA is proposing to build an 84,000-square-foot recreation center on approximately 1.5 acres of the Park and Ride lot in Ketchum. The center plan calls for two swimming pools, a gymnasium, a climbing wall and an ice rink that converts to a 2,400-seat event center, fitness center and a day care center. The YMCA intends to offer youth programs, none of which are to compete with those of Ketchum's Parks and Recreation Department.

Memberships will be available for families or individuals, approximately $90 and $60 per month, respectively. Sliding-scale memberships will be available for those who cannot afford the regular membership fee.

The cost of the project itself—$12 million for the infrastructure and $4 million for an endowment to cover operating costs—is to be covered by the YMCA.

The city of Ketchum, for its part, has to provide the land in the form of a lease: $1 per year for 99 years on those 1.5 acres. Not incidentally, a solid majority of citizens voted in November in favor of the YMCA land lease.

So, the Wood River Valley could have a brand new recreation and event center without laying out a dime for it.

On the other hand, the city could hang on to the gravel parking lot, store snow on it, then in the summer cover it with Astroturf and hold more Journey concerts.

Or, it could sell it at market price to a developer—it is zoned general residential, low density—and the valley could have a half dozen or so townhouses available for purchase.

The city could, alternatively, rezone the land commercial, and we could get another bank to move to town.

It's hard to imagine a better use for taxpayer land than a project from which the entire community can benefit.

Mayor Ed Simon has been balking at the project of late. He has threatened to veto the City Council's recent decision to repeal an ordinance that stands in the way of the lease going forward. He cites the "public interest" as his motive, despite the fact that voters have already made their interest known by voting for the land lease.

Further, the mayor wants the project to go through the city's planning review before any lease signing. But how does the city review a project that has no secured land on which it will be built? Surely a lease can be written to be null and void should the project fails design review.

To that end the City Council will meet at noon tomorrow in City Hall to draft a final version of the lease.

We encourage the council to forge ahead on a project bound to strengthen the community, despite the hard-to-fathom obstructionist ways of the mayor.

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