Mayor Hogan tells council he’d like to draft plans for future aurora rec centers

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AURORA | When Aurora Mayor Steve Hogan sent an email to city officials last week outlining projects within the city that need attention, he specifically mentioned recreation and cultural centers in his 8-point plan. He also specifically mentioned that he didn’t know how to pay for it all, but said he wanted to be ready in case the money fell in to the city’s coffers. At the same time, a group of citizens were working on a plan to ask voters next year to fund construction of city rec centers after a failed attempt in 2011.

The group, Aurora Residents for Recreation, is going back to voters a second time after a ballot initiative for three recreation centers failed in 2011. This time around, the economy is stronger and voters will be more likely to pay for quality of life improvements such as recreation centers, said Aurora resident Arnie Schultz.

“We’ve got a lot of good support,” he said.

Schultz said Hogan’s support for new recreation centers in the city also means there’s a good chance of being successful at the November 2014 election.

“The fact that he’s backing recreation is huge,” Schultz said.

Aurora has 0.44 square feet of indoor recreation space per capita, compared to 1.5 square feet per capita in the Denver metro area, Schultz said. Golden has close to 4 square feet of indoor recreation space per capita, and Denver has 1.06 square feet, he said.

Schultz is currently working on getting feedback from Aurora residents about what types of recreation centers they’d like to see.

Hogan’s preliminary plan for recreation centers is to upgrade and expand the Utah Indoor Pool near Utah Park, develop a recreation center at city-owned property at South Telluride Street and East Vassar Place, and construct an indoor sports center at Aurora Sports Park, with an ice arena and indoor practice fields for soccer, baseball, softball, basketball and football.

The cost to construct the Utah Park recreation center is about $15 million; the cost of the Telluride Street recreation center is about $33.5 million, and the cost of the indoor sports park is about $23 million, said Jason Batchelor, the city’s finance director. The design plans could cost about $8.4 million for all three projects, Batchelor said.

Hogan said there’s no plans yet on how to fund the construction costs, but he wants to at least pay for design plans for each of the projects so plans can be in place when money is available.

“We’ve got to take these things step by step and the first thing is identifying the priorities and getting them ready,” Hogan said.

In a letter to council members sent Sept. 18, Hogan said he wanted to find money in the 2014 budget to fund design plans for eight projects, including the recreation centers and also road improvements and shelters for homeless people.

But that’s still contingent on council approval, and council members are set to talk about the 2014 budget at length at their Oct. 5 budget meeting.

One option for paying for the design phase of the projects is to free up $9.5 million in cash from the city’s state-mandated Taxpayer Bill of Rights reserve. The city could pledge assets like buildings to replace the money that’s required to be in the TABOR reserve at all times, Hogan said. The city has $4 billion in assets including buildings, vehicles, art and land, he said.

Hogan, in his email, also backed a proposal to develop a new $22.5 million police and fire training facility near the Arapahoe County Fairgrounds.

Aurora police and fire staff have been lobbying for a new training center for years, saying their current facilities are spread across the city and surrounding counties and are in dire shape. Hogan agrees.

“Not only do we get a facility that will serve us for decades to come, we also get the east entry to the Fitzsimons and Anschutz Campus cleaned up so it really begins to look like a world-class facility,” Hogan wrote in the email.

When the new police and fire training facility is up and running, the existing buildings could be used as extra space for Comitis Crisis Center or Aurora Warms the Night.

James Gillespie, spokesman for Comitis, said this has been a record-breaking year for the shelter, which has seen thousands of homeless people needing places in Aurora to stay for the night.

Between January and September, Comitis has provided more than 5,200 shelter nights compared to 1,400 shelter nights for the entire year of 2012. Shelter nights include homeless people who stay at Comitis for multiple nights.

“Usually during cold weather we see a spike in numbers and that’s consistent,” he said. “But this summer has been different than any other summer we’ve encountered so far.”

The need for more space is huge, and it’s comforting to see Hogan taking “practical measures” to solve the problem, Gillespie said.

“It’s a tremendous step forward that the mayor is being proactive and thoughtful about addressing the basic human needs of the people that are here,” he said.

Hogan also detailed plans in his letter to develop a new cultural arts center, museum and central library in Ward III. The cultural arts center could be the most expensive item on Hogan’s list, depending on what the scope of the project is, Batchelor said.

Hogan also wants to turn the existing Aurora History Museum into office space for the Aurora Police Department. After a new library is built, he’d like the existing Aurora Central Library turned into a multi-use facility with an international center, active adult center and incubator for nonprofit community groups.

Councilwoman Molly Markert, though, said Hogan’s eight priority projects are “arbitrary” and was surprised to find out about them just weeks before the budget meeting.

“I’m befuddled at how one person can show up at the last minute and say, ‘I want these things,’” she said.

Reach reporter Sara Castellanos at 720-449-9036 or [email protected]