Oakdale Patch readers have been saying they would like to see a community center at the Oakdale Mall site. To find out more about the possibility of a community center at this site, or elsewhere in town, Oakdale Patch editor Patty Busse spoke with City Administrator Craig Waldron and Community Development Director Bob Streetar Friday, May 13.
Oakdale Patch: Was a community center ever considered for the Oakdale Mall site?
Craig Waldron: Well let me show you. Here is a report that was done by Brauer and Associates (on the parks system in Oakdale) … It couldn’t be clearer from a factual perspective that we’ll not be able to recover the capital investment for a facility like that, and revenue generation will not be enough to cover these costs. Yearly revenues would not cover operating expenses and a community center would be a significant funding challenge for Oakdale, and so they recommended absolutely not, and then they went in and recommended that we do more communitywide things, or more of a dispersed approach. … We did the Parks Without Borders, worked with the school district where we did the thing with them with the pool and we’ve got the ice arena and all of that stuff, of course the Discovery Center—there’s your meeting rooms and amphitheater. We followed the recommendations and did little pieces of rec. centers out there, but not the ultra-mega-type approach. … So then you have that as the basis … No matter what site you look at, the facts just warrant this being a non-starter for us—for a community our size and where we’re going. So then, fast-forward to this project and I’ll have Bob talk about the financing of the mall project. That would absolutely be a killer for us in terms of being able to pay off the bonds.
Bob Streetar: So, if the city were to consider constructing a community center at the mall … the source of repayment would in large part be a levy across all taxpayers over 20 years. In a redevelopment scenario, the way those bonds get paid back is from the increased taxes on the development and grants that are available and land sales. … The taxpayer, it doesn’t cost them anything, there’s no cost, and that’s one of the big differences because the community center would be publicly owned and so it’s not generating any taxes. So you’ve got to get that money from somewhere.
Waldron: What happens is that our whole structure is built upon the private developments coming in there to pay off those bonds to make this deal work. Where, all of a sudden, if you pull out one of those private developments there, first of all we’ve got to pay to get the community center built, which is difficult, then like he says, we don’t have those taxes coming in to pay off the bonds either, so we’re just creating a difficult double-edged sword for us there.
Oakdale Patch: Would the only way to do this be a voter referendum?
Waldron: That would probably be the way we’d do it, yeah. And even if we did do a referendum, I think we’d still have to question whether we did it on the mall site, because again our whole payback is predicated on the private sector bringing in the tax base there.
Oakdale Patch: Many cities’ community center projects nowadays are done in conjunction with the YMCA, Lifetime Fitness or similar operations. Have you sought out those kinds of partnerships, and would something like that fit into the Oakdale Mall site?
Waldron: I think that’s something we could potentially look at if it were a Lifetime coming in there and they were still running the private part of it and we were just part of the partnership, but they were still a tax-generator. We’ve been down that road a couple times since I’ve been here. We were working with Northwest Athletic Club. At the time we were talking to them they were the biggest group and they ended up selling the Timberwolves and not really developing any new clubs and so forth and so that didn’t progress. We have had talks with Lifetime off and on, not on this site, but periodically, but those were just preliminary talks and we never really went too far. But yeah, that’s probably the only scenario that could ever work there, where they are privately running the show and we’re a piece of it. … But then again remember, if we did this, so you’ve got it up and running and maybe they’ve built it, we’re still talking about having an element of a partnership with them. How are we paying for that? How would we propose to finance our part of this public-private partnership in this recessionary climate right now?
Oakdale Patch: You mentioned you’re doing a scattered-site approach to community center amenities. Are there still any pieces of a community center that the city doesn’t have?
Waldron: It depends what is in the community center per se. All of those tend to be different and tend to have a different emphasis. If you’re looking for meeting rooms and a nature area and access to a pool, we’ve covered that part of it, if we’re looking at racquetball courts and unlimited gymnasiums or something, or a massive water park component, we haven’t done that. But I think the basics that tend to be important to people in terms of the band shell and the nature center meeting areas and the Parks Without Borders, the joint ice arena and so forth, and the meeting rooms, there I think we’ve done pretty good with our partners on that, and on our own.
Oakdale Patch: Do you think this discussion would be different if we were in a booming economy?
Waldron: No, the numbers and the youth have not changed. (The 2003 study) projected out the number of kids, and the numbers have pretty much stayed right within the parameters that they had talked about. If it were a booming economy and we had unlimited funds, it could be a potential, but again, probably not in the mall area because we’re so dependent on the private sector development to bring in the taxes that pay off our bonds.
Streetar: Something Craig said that was really important is that demographically … they (the YMCA) go where the population’s growing and families have kids. … The demographics drive everything, and we’re not adding tons and tons of people (ages) 0 through 5.
Oakdale Patch: Do you often hear residents say they want a community center?
Waldron: You hear people talk about the fact that it would be nice or it could be an interesting amenity and we agree with that, but then you start to get down to the practicality of the recession—the cost, do people want to pay the increased taxes to really A. build it and B. feed it, because they don’t cash flow. So once you start to have a hard discussion of what the costs are going to be and do you want to be taxed for it, then the enthusiasm tends to drift a little bit.