The $21-$22 million dollar O’Fallon Recreation Complex has been finished for a couple of months now but the facility remains closed. This facility is the north side equal to the facility that opened in Carondelet Park on November 19, 2009:
The City of St. Louis wanted a new community recreation center on the City’s North Side to serve as a youth and elderly outreach facility, encouraging all ages to be engaged in the community. St. Louis City officials determined that there was significant interest in the North St. Louis area to support this new facility. The project is being funded by a one-eighth-cent sales tax approved by city voters in 2008.
The O’Fallon Park Recreation Complex is designed to achieve a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED®) Silver certification for environmental design and sustainability. “This new project shows the City’s commitment to improving the quality of life in North St. Louis,” says St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay. “This building will be an amenity for nearby neighborhoods and will provide a fun, safe place for children, adults and seniors to go after school and on weekends. It will help make the community healthier, and will help make our northside neighborhoods better places to live and work. The positive impact of this investment will be enjoyed by the community for years to come.” (St. Louis)
But the operating agreement between the city and the YMCA have yet to be approved.
Alderman Antonio French says Mayor Francis Slay has cut a bad deal for his residents. French says the contractor hired to run the facility — the YMCA — wants to charge his residents and the city government too much money, yet can’t assure him needy children will get in for next-to-free. (stltoday.com)
And the other side:
Jeff Rainford, Slay’s chief of staff, calls the rec center project the mayor’s “baby” and says he’s not sure why French, who was previously happy with the YMCA’s fee schedule and management proposal, is suddenly holding up the bill. The YMCA says they’ll be able to open the center 90 days after the bill is approved.
“Halfway through, he pulled the bill and started criticizing the mayor,” says Rainford. “We want people to be able to use it. It’d be a crying shame to build this palace on the hill and no one can use it.”
Rainsford [sic] says there will be 1,300 guaranteed scholarships given to kids and their families, 650 will be distributed by the Boys & Girls Club of Greater St. Louis, which is supposed to partner with the Y to provide children’s activities. In order to obtain the lower $25 membership, parents will have to show cause for need and bring in a pay stub or W-2 form. (Riverfront Times)
One issue French told me is YMCA formula for calculating a lower fee, the YMCA says their formula is proprietary information. French says that’s fine for other facilities but not one built with tax money and receiving $1.2 million per year operating subsidy.
Right now both sides have dug in their heels:
The YMCA is lined up to operate the rec center. But city aldermen are raising concerns over a $1.2 million subsidy it would need. That’s $500,000 more per year than an estimate done eight years ago.
It’s not clear exactly where the money will come from.
Slay’s office says under a current plan, 1,300 young people would get a $25 dollar- a-year membership for the center.
Alderman Antonio French says he wants commitments in writing. (KMOV)
No shortage of options:
There’s been a lot of back-and-forthing about who would pay what to use the facility and what discounts might be offered to low-income families. Mr. French told us he’d be satisfied if low-income families paid 60 percent of the planned family rate of $55 a month, or $33 a month. If 5,000 low-income families took advantage of a $22-a-month discount, $110,000 a year would be needed.
Here’s a plan: If all the civic groups and corporations who have bemoaned the lack of recreational opportunities in north St. Louis bucked up, 110 grand would be easy.
Mayor Francis Slay’s office thinks Mr. French is playing politics. He is a paid consultant to Aldermanic President Lewis Reed, who might challenge Mr. Slay for his job next year. Opening a new rec center on the north side before the March primary election might benefit the Slay campaign. (stltoday.com editorial)
So what do you think? Take the poll in the right sidebar (mobile users need to switch to full website). Poll results on Wednesday October 3rd along with my thoughts on the controversy and a look at pedestrian access to the facility.
– Steve Patterson