DEVILS LAKE - Residents soon will head to the polls for the second time in four years to vote on a dedicated half-cent sales tax to decide the fate of what would be the city's first activities and recreation center.
The special election is March 13.
A similar proposal - one that called for building a recreation center at Lake Region Community College along with a separate convention center at the former Walmart location - lost by just 75 votes in 2014.
Supporters say they hope the singular focus will make a difference this time.
"I'd like to say I'm cautiously optimistic since it's just one project by itself," said Superintendent of Parks and Recreation Terry Wallace of the Devils Lake Park District. "And this time it's not connected to the college. It's at a separate site on its own."
The 70,000-square-foot Lake Area Activity and Recreation Center is estimated to cost $19.5 million and would be built south of the city's Burdick Arena, which now houses the city's main ice rink and Parks and Rec offices. It also would be near the city's high school and college on the north side of town.
Wallace said there are plans for a new ice rink to be built in an attached 25,000-square-foot building, but that would be paid for separately through the Park District and with private donations.
"We have an 85-year-old rink now that's getting down to the end of its useful life," he said, referring to the city rink in Roosevelt Park.
For all ages
Plans for the new two-story activities center call for a swimming/lap pool with zero-depth entry, a large hot tub and an attached party room. Wallace said splash park features also are possible. The center would include a large gymnasium that could be broken into separate courts for basketball, volleyball and other activities, along with a smaller multipurpose court and up to two racquetball courts.
Other features include locker rooms, a golf simulator, studio/fitness rooms for yoga or other classes, an indoor playground area, drop-off daycare, areas for free weights and cardio equipment, a training and physical therapy room, concession area and a community room with lounge space. A walking track also will be available on the second floor. The Parks and Rec offices would move to the new building.
"Just about every town in North Dakota with a population of 3,000 or more has a public activity center. Devils Lake has nothing for indoor usage, and it's time to get a facility built for our area," Wallace said. "This facility will be family-oriented and be used by all ages in the entire Lake Region. We feel we need something our youth and senior population can go to."
Wallace said the facility, which will be open up to 17 hours a day, likely will employ at least three full-time employees and a number of part-time workers.
He estimates the facility would need an annual membership of at least 900 to keep up with maintenance, but he predicts regular membership will be much higher. For instance, he said a new center in Valley City, N.D., has 2,000 members.
A community survey found that 70 percent of respondents agree the city needs a recreation center.
Wallace stressed the project will not increase property taxes. The Park District found the sales tax option far more favorable because it means the average person will pay just $15 more a year if they spend $3,000 on taxable goods. Groceries, farm equipment and cars are exempt from the tax, and there also is a $25 sales tax cap.
On the other hand, a property tax increase would have required an increase of $400 per year on a home valued at $200,000.
The sales tax allows the city to use tourist dollars to help foot the bill. Tourism brings 100,000 people to the city each year, and studies show more than half of the total sales tax collection is generated by those nonresident purchases.
Wallace said city leaders have talked about building a recreation center for at least 20 years, but the instability in lake levels has more than once stalled momentum.
"Now that we have our lake stabilized and the city is protected, we think now is the time to move forward," Wallace said.
Residents will vote the same day on a quarter-cent sales tax increase to pay for infrastructure projects.
If passed, the tax would raise an additional $400,000 each year to pay for upkeep on roads, streets, sidewalks and water and sewer lines throughout the city.
Devils Lake City Administrator Terry Johnston said voters passed a half-cent sales tax increase in 2007, but that fell short of covering all of the city's infrastructure needs.
"We've been using that and we've done a lot, but it just isn't enough," he said.
He said the city recently put together a 30-year infrastructure plan, and the new revenue would make it possible to cover all of the necessary projects.
He said the city soon will mail households educational information on infrastructure needs.
Polls will be open from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. March 13 in the Memorial Building at 508 Fourth Ave. N.E. Absentee ballots now are available by stopping by City Hall or by calling (701) 662-7600.