EDITOR’S NOTE. This is the last in a series of stories covering the public forum held last week to discuss pros and cons of a proposed recreation center.
Don Price is the owner of Anytime Fitness in Harrison. He also owns two locations in Texas. He came from his home in Texas to Harrison on Tuesday, Sept. 24, to participate in the forum held at the Durand Center co-sponsored by the Transparency in Government Group (TIGG) of Boone County and by the Moving Harrison Forward organization to discuss the city's proposed $39.9 million community recreation complex.
"Forty million dollars is a whole lot of money," he opened.
A proposed $39.9 million recreation center in Harrison would be built if voters pass two referendums in November. One asks for a 0.75% sales tax to build the center, which would expire when bonds sold to finance the construction are paid off. theater is a permanent 0.25% sales tax for its maintenance and operation, and to continue to maintain and improve existing park facilities.
The recreation center plans as proposed includes four sport courts for activities walking tracks, an indoor aquatic center, an aquatic splash park and pools having water slides, a lazy river and a zero-entry area. A physical fitness area is also included.
Price said the town he lives in had a nice recreation center operated by the city. It was donated by a family with the help of other donors. It was a shining star in that town, he said, but even with follow up grants the Cain Center, as it was called, was not able to be sustained. He said he went into business because the center was always dirty. Two and a half years ago the center closed its doors.
He said as a business owner he would be concerned by some of the numbers projected in Harrison's proposal.
He said he is wary of the projected salaries, memberships and fees.
He cited the International Health Racquet & Sportsclub Association, the authority for fitness centers, as saying 16% of the population will be a member of a fitness center. He noted the 16% of the population is spread out to other centers in town.
Think about that, he said. He looked at Batesville having 8,700 members. "That is off the charts. That's an anomaly," he said.
He said if Harrison was relying on getting 3,500 members a month to pay this kind of money, he would not enter that venture. "I am all for fitness and exercise, but you will be saddled with a big bill for that in the long run."
Rick Elumbaugh, mayor of Batesville, commended the Harrison City Council and city officials for fighting for a progressive community. He came to Harrison to participate in the forum.
He said Batesville resembles Harrison in population, sales tax revenues and in many social-economic areas.
He said the community center in Batesville's largest group of members are older adults, not youth. He said 60% of the center's members live in the county.
"Every question you guys were asked tonight I was asked in 2012. There has not been one question or comment that I have not heard," Elumbaugh said.
"Our folks are excited, 8,800 members of that community center," said Elumbaugh. He said there are over 200 members taking senior aerobics classes. People are standing in line at 5 a.m. to get into the center. Batesville has three fitness centers and they all still have their lights on. "We have people who are community center members and also of Anytime Fitness. So they cross over."
Following some testimonials on the benefits the center has given to individuals, Elumbaugh talked about some of the economic benefits the center has provided, such as recruiting employees for local businesses and industries.
He said greenway trails improve property values. Commercial and residential uses are mutually attracted to these areas.
The center has attracted volleyball tournaments. Only about 1,200 individuals come in, but every player on average brings three other people with them. They fill local hotels. A baseball tournament was held on a weekend. Local restaurants reported running out of food, the mayor said.
The center is credited for revitalizing Batesville's downtown business area. He said 95% of the downtown buildings are occupied
Donors provide sponsorships for individual assets. These funds go into a contingency fund for replacing assets.
Elumbaugh said he did homework by looking at centers in other towns. He said he learned from their mistakes.
"I am here because I am paying it forward," he said. He said he met the mayor of Paragould who had a community center before Batesville's. Elumbaugh was advised to build Batesville's center for the future. You have only one opportunity to build. It's like building your last house, he said.
Elumbaugh said Batesville has a can-do attitude, now. "What are we going to do next?" citizens are asking.
"Our bonds have paid back nicely. We can refinance our bonds. We could do a $12-$15 million project. A meeting was held two weeks ago and 250 people showed up to make a wish list for evaluation.”
Harrison's proposal rests on an election consisting of two sales tax referendums necessary to build and maintain the proposed recreational complex.
Early voting will take place Tuesday through Friday, Nov. 5-8 and continues on Monday, Nov. 11, at the Boone County Election Center on West Central Avenue, from 8 a.m. through 4:30 p.m.
The special election will be held Tuesday, Nov. 12, at polls located at Woodland Heights Baptist Church on Gipson Road and the Election Center, from 7:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m.