It’s official. Jeff Gahan and his cohort think we’re stupid. It’s time to issue a call to the mayor and the city council saying, in no uncertain terms, “We know what you’re up to. We are not fooled. Surrender now to the people of New Albany or pay the price at the ballot box in 2015.”
I’m addressing myself to just 2 of the projects approved Thursday night (Feb. 21, 2013) giving approval to the sale of property-tax backed municipal bonds in an amount as high as $19.6 million and at an interest rate of as high as 7%.
Those 2 are the outdoor pool and the creation of a greatly expanded farmer’s market complex.
Let’s get right to the numbers, remembering that I had previously proposed a far more popular and cost-effective aquatic recreation program consisting of multiple spray parks distributed across the city. Let me today add my proposal for the creation of 2 dog parks – 1 for smaller dogs and another for larger dogs.
According to the newspaper of record, the Gahan administration is proceeding with plans for a $9 million aquatic center to be located at the failed site of the Camille Wright swimming pool off W. Daisy Lane.
Their professional design consultant, The Estopinal Group (and who else would you expect them to use?) says that a new outdoor facility can be expected to have 66,000 visits each year and to generate $932.000 in revenues. TEG asserts that the operating costs of the pool will not exceed $700,000 annually. Simple arithmetic yields a net revenue stream of $232,000 each year.
Oh, but that it were true.
The most compelling reason the previous parks administration abandoned the Camille Wright site was the extreme lack of demand shown by New Albany residents. Even if we assume that the new outdoor aquaplex becomes wildly popular upon opening and maintains that high attendance throughout the life of the facility, I project more like 18,000 visits. That represents 200 visitors over a 90 day period, a reasonable estimate given our climate and the expectation that the pool will only be open from Memorial Day to, perhaps, Labor Day.
But what about this wrinkle? Our local schools corporation just adopted a 12-month academic school year, otherwise known as year-round school. We’ve not experienced yet a summer in which school attendance is the norm, but ask any teacher or principal how that’s going to impact summer recreation as we knew it in the latter decades of the 20th century.
And our summer weather will have to cooperate, too. Though we’ve experienced some years of absolutely torrid temperatures and drought, it’s pretty easy to figure that a good 20 days will be washouts due to rain, storms, or the impending threat of storms. So now we have 70 days averaging 200 visitors, or 14,000 visits.
I maintain that societal norms have changed, too. No longer will parents think it prudent to just drop off their kids at the pool for a few hours or all day. No longer will most kids bike or hike out to the city limits to laze by the pool. No longer will any public facility deign to be a babysitter for unaccompanied minors. Our neighboring cities of Clarksville and Jeffersonville do not allow children under 14 to attend without an accompanying adult guardian. While 15-year-old Abby can head over to the pool, she cannot take along her 12-year-old sister unless an adult also pays for an admission.
Societal attitudes about playing out in the sun have also changed dramatically. When I was a kid, a sunburn was a sunburn and a finely crafted tan was the epitome of beauty and cool. Today we know much better. Every sunburn adds appreciably to the future expectation of skin cancers. Tanning is retrograde, left to the ignorant and the reckless. Sure, SPF factors are now available in the 3-digit range, but ask any pediatrician whether they recommend prolonged exposure to the sun. Ask any optometrist or ophthalmologist the same questiion.
And what kids find cool today is NOT the same thing people the age of Scott Blair, Pat McLaughlin, John Gonder, Bob Caesar, Dan Coffey, and Greg Phipps found to be cool. They, and we, may lament that, but we don’t live in the same world we grew up in. As I’ve said before, Mr. Gahan’s vision is at odds with modernity, not to mention with current progressive recreational facility planning. And we, by handcuffing our city treasury with a 20-year obligation, are paying for it.
$932,000 in annual revenues
Already we’ve said we don’t believe the city’s attendance estimates. But say they are correct. Do you realize that the $932,000 in annual revenue is predicated on an average admission fee of $14.12 for each of those 66,000 visitors?
This assumes that absolutely no one buys a season pass, which surely would reduce the daily revenue stroke and increase the daily admission appreciably ($18?). It also assumes no discounts for any reason. No discounts for seniors. No discounts for infants. No discounts or subsidies for low-income residents. No off-peak discounts for, say, the last 2 hours of the day – night swims. And no group discounts for day-care group visits or off-hours parties or swimming lessons.
To achieve that revenue figure per visitor, a day pass would cost upwards of $20.
Clarksville charges $6 a day. So does Jeffersonville. Already I’m wondering how many New Albany residents will pay even $6 to use the Gahan pool. But the city confidently asserts that hundreds will pay $20 or more for a day at the aquaplex.
$9 million outdoor pool
OK. Maybe it’s only $8 million. Who could possibly know? Why are we racing to issue bond debt (and encumbering the city far into the future from borrowing for other worthy purposes) for a pool for which we have no design or budget?
On the interest alone (probably $3.5 million over 20 years), we could build 6 spray parks. Operating costs for spray parks are about 6% of the costs to operate an outdoor pool. They are able to remain open much longer without adding costs. Think back to how many scorching days we’ve had in late April and May and how many unseasonably warm days we’ve endured in September and even October. Wouldn’t it be nice to catch a little heat relief without changing into swimwear, driving out to the city limits, and paying $(x) per person to soak in chlorinated water?
I’m not actually proposing we build 6 spray parks, but with that budget, we’re talking “Taj Mahal” spray parks, all paid for off what would have been the interest on a new outdoor swimming pool. And six pools corresponds quite well to the political reality that we have 6 council districts with council members hoping to bring home the “bacon.”
If pressed, I’d propose a spray park along the Greenway, either at the site of the old dump or near the riverfront amphitheater. Others could be included in existing parks or strategically placed to serve that part of the community who, for whatever reason, find dissonance in the idea of driving somewhere to engage in recreation. And with the savings gained, we could build a network of walking paths that connected each of our parks, including spray parks, and thus enhance the … that’ right … quality of life and competitiveness of New Albany as a great place to live.
Finally, these spray parks would be … wait for it … wait … free to attend. The worst that could happen is that they become overcrowded, thereby justifying the establishment of even more such spray parks.
That’s enough for today. Perhaps we’ll return to discuss the need for dog parks, for which we could pay if we don’t build an outdoor pool complex simply to satisfy someone’s edifice complex. And I’ll try to rustle up my previous arguments regarding why putting more money into the farmers’ market site is a fool’s errand.
Welcome to 2013 and let’s hope for a pragmatic future where we take care of the problems we have and look to the future instead of to the 1970s for answers.