There has been a lot of hubbub about a community center. We have had some meetings. There has been a lot of talk. But the reality is that at this point there has been nothing but talk. There are no plans. Nothing is set or determined.
Some members of the Town Board did try to move forward quickly and get proposals on ideas one councilman came up with. Thankfully we stopped it. That’s not how you build large projects. You get input. You move forward carefully. You build what is needed, not what a few people want.
Many options for the community center
Among the many ideas floating around are:
• NIKE BASE. We could reinvest in the Golden Age Center and Community Building at the Nike Base. We are working on removing the asbestos now, but overall, the structures need a lot of work, so repairing it may be fiscally unwise. The location is open, however, and owned by the town.
• VETERANS PARK. Many people want to build something at Veterans Park. It’s a hub for sports and it's home to the library. But parking is already limited, and traffic flow is tricky.
• TOWN COMMONS. There is more space there than you think, and again the town already owns the land. Plus, the space is centrally-located.
• SOME OTHER PROPERTY. A number of developers have hinted that they are interested in selling land to the town or playing a role in the project.
• DO NOTHING. That’s always an option. But of course, it has its drawbacks too. We lack space for community events. Our schools, churches, and current senior center are under pressure.
The plaza—what’s the story?
Another idea floating around is redeveloping the plaza by mixing town investment with private investment. We could build the community center there, and the plaza owner would reinvest in the rest of the plaza.
When I first came into office I had many discussions with the plaza owner about the quality of the parking lot and other issues. We achieved some minor improvements, but the overall look and feel of the plaza has not materially improved.
The challenge the plaza faces is getting an “anchor” tenant. The anchor tenant is the party that holds together a mall or a retail plaza. In the old days that party would be a big department store like Macy’s, but with the advent of Amazon and others, those old brick and mortar stores are struggling. Look no further than the plaza itself (or the Summit Park Mall or the Eastern Hills Mall) for evidence.
New management, strong anchor
Today, the plaza has no true anchor tenant. It has a few great tenants, including a gift shop, pottery shop, salon, and bank. But the big space in the middle has been empty for generations. And my efforts to get a major player in there, like a fitness center or grocery store, have been fruitless so far. Some have looked at the plaza, but none have been courageous enough to invest.
The long-time owner of the plaza has been in discussions with another group who may be interested in taking over the plaza. And they are eager for the public to know about their idea.
I think to have a proper discussion about community center options it is wise to consider the idea. They want to incorporate our community center into the empty spot in the plaza while retaining all current tenants. Thus, the town would be the anchor tenant.
In the modern era, the most desirable anchor tenant is, in fact, government. Government does not go out of business, and government facilities draw people. You can see this new trend across the country. In many new retail developments, government entities are being used as strong anchor tenants.
A good idea?
I think building a community center is a good idea. I do not want to construct the Taj Mahal of sports. Prudent investment in some utilitarian facilities, however, will meet a glaring need for meeting space for many groups on Grand Island, and it may provide winter space for youth recreation.
But I do not care where the community center goes, and I will not force my will upon the town. I believe we need to continue to gather input, only proceeding once we have a clearer vision of what the residents want.
But is the plaza the right place?
There are pros and cons to building there, just like the other options mentioned above. The mixture of private and public funds can be difficult. But revitalizing that space would immediately change the look and feel of our town and inspire other forms of positive investment.
Imagine the Boulevard with new sidewalks (we have a million-dollar grant), solar powered lighting (hopefully soon), and a new DeGlopper Memorial (Greenway application is in) spread out before a glorious revitalized plaza.
It would be something else. It would support current businesses and attract new investment to our town center. Again, the residents have the final say, but this idea at least deserves careful consideration.