01/04/11 — Goldsboro - No to Rec Center

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Goldsboro - No to Rec Center

By Kenneth Fine
Published in News on January 4, 2011 1:57 PM

A seemingly innocent request from Mayor Pro Tem Chuck Allen led Monday evening to the second death of a project that, since it was voted down in April, appeared to have some life left in it.

There will be no construction of a new recreation center downtown -- at least not unless City Council members decide to start the entire process over again.

Allen requested, at the council's pre-meeting work session, that the bids that came in for the project be extended for three more months -- an attempt, he admitted, to buy some time in hopes that funding for construction would become available.

"Can we try one more three-month extension and see what happens with that?" he said. "We're trying to see if (anybody) has grants -- what pots of money are out there, is there anything available for this project?"

But Allen's peers scoffed at the notion.

"We've been dancing with this thing forever." Council member Michael Headen said. "I'm about at the point where I'm ready to be done with this. I mean, if there was anybody out there who was going to give us money, shouldn't we have known that by now?

"And OK, let's say we extend it. Where's the money at? Where's the money? I don't see anybody rushing up to help out with this thing and we can't do it the way it stands right now."

Council member Bob Waller agreed.

"My problem is, can we get the $10 or $12 million that we need? Because I just don't see this city going into debt any more. We may get $1 million or $2 million, but that's not going to do it without having to have a tax increase. I think now is the wrong time to do that."

"I'm with them," Council member Don Chatman said. "We don't have any real view on how we're going to pay for this thing. Even if we got $2 or $3 million, it's still not going to be enough."

Allen seemed surprised by their reaction.

"I don't think you're going to get $10 or $12 million. If that's what you're reaching for, I never realized that." he said. "I thought if you got $2 or $3 million, you'd be doing really, really good."

"You would Chuck," Waller replied. "But we'd still have to have a tax increase to pay for the rest of it."

The council voted down moving forward with construction of the state-of-the-art facility in April after investing more than $1 million over the previous several years to fund construction plans.

"It's dead now. I don't know when it will be discussed again, but right now, it's dead," Mayor Al King said at the time. "I don't see it coming up again anytime soon unless someone steps forward and says, 'Hey. We'll build it for you.' And I don't think that's going to happen."

Those who voted against construction of the facility -- Jackie Warrick, Chatman, Waller and Headen -- cited the state of the economy as a major influence in their decision.

"Pretty much, where we are right now as far as the city budget ... it looks like we're going to have to freeze positions again, probably cut programs, and we're still looking at an increase in taxes just to maintain what we have," Chatman said then. "So even though I am totally for the rec. center and what it can do for the city and downtown, I think that for me, I need to know that the city is going to be able to maintain what we have -- that we won't be digging ourselves deeper and deeper.

"I don't want the city to be in the position where we have to continue to raise taxes ... because pretty soon, we wouldn't have any people to pay those taxes because they would leave. So economically, I don't feel good that we can do this project and still maintain what we have. I would love to see the project and I want to see it, but I can't vote for it right now."

The city had been eyeing construction of a new recreation center since the previous facility -- opened in 1925 and located on Walnut Street -- was destroyed by fire in 2004.

In June 2005, a committee was formed to research a possible reconstruction, and since, the group has produced a design, location -- the 200 block of Center Street -- and most of the additional details to make it happen.

But the project was put on hold in January 2009 because of a shaky economy -- the same climate that prompted Waller, Warrick, Headen and Chatman to vote "no" in April.

Whether or not construction of the facility will be back on the table in the future remains unknown.

But two things, after Monday, are now clear: In order to construct a recreation center downtown, the city will have to start the process all over again, and, $1.2 million is now forever gone.