Skepticism grows over proposed $65 million city rec center in Rochester

The last time we last checked in April, the Rochester City Council desperately wanted to spend $65 million on a regional recreational complex with no clear idea of why or whom it would serve. Here’s an excerpt.

The city wanted to include a variety of community groups to throw out ideas on uses for the community center in collaboration with the architect to help make certain they stayed within the $65 million budget. What could go wrong?

Six months later, city officials appear to be as mystified as ever, judging from the Post Bulletin’s coverage of the council’s latest meeting.

A delayed effort to renew Rochester’s half-cent sales tax to create a regional recreation complex, among other projects, is expected to get more study.

“I don’t want to see us going into more of the direction of being all things to all people, because then it just gets washed out,” Rochester City Council member Mark Bransford said Monday.

“The regional sports complex needs to be better redefined,” he added.

The rec complex was the bright shiny object in the city’s plan to ask voters to extend the local .5% sales tax set to expire in 2024. Local sales taxes require legislative approval before going on the ballot, but lawmakers adjourned the 2022 session before taking action.

Now city officials clearly intend to revive the plan to seek legislative and voter approval for extending the sales tax, which produces some $12 million annually. Their wish list already adds up to more than $200 million in projects, still anchored by the ill-defined rec center.

The current proposal calls generating a combined $205 million, with $65 million earmarked for the proposed recreational complex.

Another $50 million would be used for street reconstruction projects, with an additional $50 million earmarked for an economic vitality fund that could boost local and regional housing efforts. The proposal also seeks $40 million for future work related to flood control and water quality.

The tax would continue until all approved projects are fully funded.

First city officials must receive approval for the sales tax extension from legislators and Rochester voters. But there’s increasing uncertainty and anxiety over the embarrassing lack of clarity on the target audience for the complex.

…Mayor Kim Norton said some community conversations have spurred uncertainty related to the proposed complex.

“I know there are partners in the community that want this very badly, but I’m not sure how strongly the community feels about those wants,” she said.

Additionally, she cited the potential for confusion without a clear plan.

“I don’t want us to build up a false hope without defining who’s going to have access to this, and have people disappointed after the fact,” she said.

Rochester officials have until the end of January to get their act together on the proposed plan for the sales tax extension for legislators. Build it and they will come may cut it in the movies, but not when it comes to allocating $65 million in taxpayer funds.