Hudson Council wants to gauge community interest in recreation center
HUDSON — City Council started a discussion about a potential community recreation center and members noted they want to seek community input to determine residents' level of interest in such a facility.
The city administration will soon provide its recommendation on a company they want to hire to conduct a survey on what residents want in a potential downtown project. At the conclusion of council's workshop discussion Tuesday night, City Manager Jane Howington said she would contact that same firm about doing a survey on the recreation center issue, too.
She plans to ask the company if they would "recommend this be one survey [or] this be two surveys," and be able to come back with that discussion in February.
Mayor Craig Shubert said he felt it was important to have a "statistically valid survey" on the rec center project.
The possibility of a city rec center was discussed Tuesday after Council member Nicole Kowalski (at-large) proposed the city consider working with LifeCenter Plus on developing a recreation center concept. She had offered three options for council to consider:
1. The city enters an agreement with LifeCenter Plus which would effectively make it the city's recreation center. A property tax levy would pay for a subsidized/reduced membership and some capital improvements. Current owner Jerry Lynch would continue to own and operate the facility.
2. The city buys the facility and Lynch would continue operating it. According to Kowalski, based on recent property valuation data, the estimated cost of the facility is $5 million.
3. The city purchases the facility, operates the business, and lowers the cost of membership.
Kowalski added she anticipated a property tax levy would likely be needed for the second and third options.
She suggested that council have staff conduct a professional valuation and facilities analysis of Life Center, and then do a comparative cost analysis of the three options.
While that cost analysis occurred, Kowalski proposed the city conduct a survey to find out what types of amenities people would want in a recreation center, how many would join a facility, what they would be willing to pay in membership cost and if they would be willing to pay a property tax levy to help fund the facility.
"I think the topic of a recreation center is such a robust topic that it deserves to have its own survey," said Kowalski.
Kowalski also said it would be "helpful" to have estimated costs of building a new facility. She noted one of the primary issues is whether residents are willing to pay for a property tax levy for a potential center.
"Do we want to continue having this conversation or is it really just something that Hudson does not have a desire to continue to look at once they realize what the tax implications are?" asked Kowalski, who added she felt it was important to define what a recreation center is to Hudson residents.
Council members generally agreed that they were interested in discussing the possibility of a city recreation center, but did not wish to pursue Kowalski's suggestion that the city work with LifeCenter Plus.
Discussion has mixed reactions
Reaction to Kowalski's proposal among council members was mixed.
Council member Skylar Sutton (Ward 3) was critical of the approach taken by Kowalski.
While noting a conversation on the idea of a recreation center was "overdue," Sutton said there is a "huge difference" between saying "I think we should start talking about a rec center," and "I negotiated a $5 million deal, didn't discuss it with any of you, and I want to put it on the ballot."
When Kowalski interjected to say, "I did not negotiate any deal," Sutton responded, "excuse me, the floor is mine. Excuse me. Show some respect."
Noting that Kowalski campaigned for a council seat that she won last fall as a "unifier," Sutton told her, "your first action is to sidestep this council and the five-year budget. Your actions were disrespectful, reckless and shows a total lack of leadership."
When Wooldredge attempted to interject, Sutton stated, "Bill, the floor is mine, please."
"I understand," answered Wooldredge. "But let's not get personal."
Sutton criticized Kowalski for not doing due diligence and analysis to find out basic operational costs of a rec center "before negotiating a purchase price." He noted legislators don't know what services residents want, nor is it known if Life Center could offer those services or handle servicing the whole city.
He said he is "not completely opposed" to a rec center, but noted it's the "kind of fluff that you put into a community after you've addressed basic needs like stormwater, fire hydrants, city water [and] sanitary sewers."
Council member Hal DeSaussure (at-large) told Sutton he was "unbelievably personal" in his statements toward Kowalski, and urged his colleagues to "elevate the discussion."
DeSaussure said there are many methods to bring issues to legislators for discussion and observed Kowalski had put together a discussion on a potential survey.
"This is one way that Nicole brought the issue up," said DeSaussure. "There's nothing improper about it and … it's a question as to whether we as a council want to move forward with idea of sending out a survey. I have been presented with nothing that indicates that there's been anything negotiated or there's any kind of deal that's been struck."
Council member Kate Schlademan (Ward 1) said she felt there was "no negotiation, there's just some simple information that we're taking a look at."
Noting that she's heard from a lot of residents who want council to look at a rec center, Schlademan encouraged her colleagues to start talking about the topic.
After viewing the meeting, Lynch called the Hub-Times to say that he did not negotiate a deal with the city.
"I gave them an almost two-year-old business valuation that they used to throw out a number, I think, for discussion," said Lynch. "We never said, 'this is what I want and they said, OK, this is what we'll try and get you.' Nothing like that ever occurred, ever."
Council member Chris Foster (Ward 2) said officials have discussed a rec center idea for about five months. He noted when council initially discussed the idea of a Phase II survey, he said city officials have "separated the idea of what we need in Phase II from what we should get from a rec center."
Foster said he felt Phase II and a rec center "should be separated, they should be explored, they should be cost-value propositions to the community."
He noted officials decided on a company a week and half ago to perform a study.
Regarding Kowalski's proposal, Foster said he also felt it was "pretty reckless to come in and say, 'hey we're going to buy this place, and we're going to put [in] a property tax levy.'"
"We do have a survey that will go out," said Foster. "We've selected the market research company. It will come to council."
DeSaussure told Foster he did not feel they needed to "redo the work you guys have done, but if we're going to move forward with this, let's talk about it as a whole."
Wooldredge said Foster was discussing work on a survey about what should be done downtown rather than a rec center.
"I think that's separate from what we're talking about tonight," said Wooldredge. "It should be separate."
Foster said council previously discussed the idea that two surveys would be needed "in order to cover all the requirements that people had asked for in Downtown Phase II along with recreation centers and other accoutrements."
Kowalski said she listened to previous council discussions on the survey and did not hear a rec center discussed publicly. She noted she wanted the city to move forward on a survey on the issue.
Council member Beth Bigham (Ward 4) said she favored moving forward with asking the community about how they feel about a rec center.
"I like the idea of starting with how do we define a rec center and then going out with a potential survey," said Bigham.
Kowalski clarified that she was not suggesting a purchase of Life Center Plus and noted the $5 million price came from an appraisal that was done in 2018 and adjusted for 2020 dollars.
"It does kind of get the conversation rolling because you can start to then imagine what the tax implications would be for a purchase," said Kowalski. "Like I said, that is not necessarily the route we should go. It was just something I wanted to provide council for its consideration."
Reporter Phil Keren can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter at @keren_phil.