Sports arenas and baseball facilities remain on the top of East Grand Forks’ wish list.
During Mayor Steve Gander’s annual State of the City event last week, the mayor turned over the mic to city Parks and Recreation Director Reid Huttunen, who spoke about the need to improve the community’s ice arenas and Stauss Park, its main baseball complex.
The reasons are many, Huttunen said, ranging from basic renovations related to the American Disabilities Act, to safety concerns for fans and players and parking lot improvements. Deferred maintenance costs adding up, he said. The total is reaching $13 million.
To address the issue, East Grand Forks circulated a survey among residents and used the approximately 900 responses to outline a path forward.
Huttunen and East Grand Forks leaders get it. They know that these facilities cannot continue to decay, and they also know the importance of building quality of life in their community.
We’re convinced facilities make a difference in whether young families will choose to move to a community. We’re similarly convinced that top-notch facilities can actually bring business to town in the form of tournaments and events, and believe a city has a responsibility to take care of its resources.
Aided by the information taken from the 900 surveys, Huttunen laid out priorities:
● Boost recreation-related economic impact by increasing visitor traffic through events and activities.
● Invest in improvements that increase the existing buildings’ function, flexibility and access for all residents.
● Repair and renovate existing buildings, with the focus on improved efficiency and safety.
● Renovate the Stauss Park baseball complex to allow for longer seasonal use and improved safety.
The city has formed a committee that will begin pushing that boulder up the hill. Its members will formulate a plan, to then be seen by the City Council and East Grand Forks residents. By all appearances, the city is being transparent and inclusive with its plans.
It’s a good strategy, but …
“A burning question we all have,” Huttunen said, “is how much will it cost and how will we pay for it?”
There’s always something.
Multiple funding sources likely are required, he said, including a potential sales tax increase. Huttunen reminded attendees that a sales tax was used to pay for a $2.1 million project at the swimming pool, and received 70% approval in a city election. The debt was retired in September.
And the result? The pool has seen dramatically increased attendance.
A sales tax increase won’t be easy to pass. Due to state law, it will require approval by the City Council and, later, from the Legislature before it can be put to a citywide vote.
But it would be worth it. Quality of life is not some phenomenon, but rather a real thing that young families of the future will consider before moving to a town. Private donations will be sought, but the bulk of improvements will require a tax increase.
East Grand Forks already has endured a small sales-tax increase to pay for the pool, and residents there should give strong consideration to another to pay for necessary improvements to these important city assets.