Aurora eyes future pot revenues for new rec center

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AURORA | Revenue from recreational marijuana sales may be put toward building a new recreation center in central Aurora.

Students work through a variety of circuits during a boot camp basics class, Sept. 24 at Beck Recreation Center. Aurora Mayor Steve Hogan is working out plans to find money in the 2014 budget to fund projects including new recreation centers, road improvements and shelters for homeless people.  (Marla R. Keown/Aurora Sentinel)Aurora City Council is advancing a measure to use $2 million a year from recreational marijuana sales to build a $30-million recreation center at Telluride Street and Vassar Place.

“I think it was a very strong message on (the) part of council to say it’s important to show we’re doing something with marijuana tax revenue,” said Ward V Councilman Bob Roth.

The recreation center would be located in Roth’s ward, where he says the ward’s 63,000 residents have only the Meadowood Recreation Center, which was built in 1975 and lacks amenities such as a full-size gym and a pool.

“Providing an area recreation center, that is pretty needed in southeast Aurora,” Roth said.

The city purchased the 20-acre site — now a vacant field next to a newer neighborhood in Ward V — in 1998 with the idea to turn the space into a rec facility. The Parks Department even worked on a design plan for the site that would include a family aquatic space, gymnasium, fitness areas, as well as multipurpose exercise and community meeting rooms.

The design, priced at $33.5 million at the time, was part of a ballot initiative that failed with voters in 2011.

For years, Aurora’s recreation centers developed a reputation for being outdated and inadequate for a city of about 350,000 people. The last indoor recreation facility, the Aurora Center for Active Adults, was built in 1980 when the population of Aurora was 158,888, said Arnie Schultz, who founded the Aurora Residents for Recreation Task Force.

At-Large Councilman Bob LeGare credited the efforts of the task force for making the issue a council priority. Recent studies done by the task force show there are more than 200,000 residents living within a four-mile radius of the site of the new recreation center.

“It’s definitely a much-needed capital improvement for the city,” LeGare said. “Without question, it will be the newest and most grand recreation center in the City of Aurora that is publicly owned and open to the public.”

The $2 million in marijuana money will be dedicated for the next 25 years to pay back a bond of up to $35 million to construct the new facility.

LeGare said the use of recreational marijuana money was a creative way to not have Aurora taxpayers foot the bill.

“I think our voters have said, over and over, ‘no’ to tax increases,” he said.

This year, the city is also in the midst of expanding Moorhead Recreation Center from 5,000 square feet to 32,000 square feet. Moorhead will become the second full-service recreation center in the city when the improvements are made. City officials expect it to reopen sometime in the spring of 2017.

The $13 million needed for that renovation came from the City of Aurora extending a Conservation Trust Fund loan three more years, which is funded by lottery revenue allocated to the city’s parks department.City-owned property at South Telluride Street and East Vassar Place is a potential location for a future central recreation center. The Parks Department designed plans that would include a family aquatic space, gymnasium, fitness areas and multipurpose exercise and community meeting rooms. (Marla R. Keown/Aurora Sentinel)

Right now, Aurora has five recreation centers, with one specifically for youth. Beck Recreation Center is currently the only full-service facility in Aurora. It is also the largest at around 57,000 square feet. It went through a $7.5-million remodel in 2012 that took the city almost a decade to fund.

Funding a new recreation center is the longest-term commitment city council has made for marijuana sales revenue. Marijuana revenue is not part of the city’s general fund and still faces issues due to federal prohibitions, which prompted city leaders to instead dedicate the money to short-term projects such as one-time transportation improvements and a three-year commitment to homelessness outreach.

“In my mind, the odds of marijuana revenue going away is pretty slim,” LeGare said. “If we see after seven years sales drop off, we adjust our budget so we can make the debt service payment.”

A public meeting to discuss the new Central Recreation Center is being held at 6:30 p.m. Aug. 4 at Vassar Elementary. 18101 E. Vassar Place, Aurora.