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Poll mentions fitness bond

by Jay Hamburger OF THE RECORD STAFF

In what could start another brouhaha between City Hall and private-sector athletic clubs, the local government is polling Parkites about their recreation habits and how much they are willing to spend for those pursuits.

The questionnaire hints at the potential of the local government seeking voter approval of a ballot measure, with the money being put toward recreation. If that is the case, the city could be asking Parkites to support a bond less than a decade after voters, seeming to be influenced by a public-relations campaign by an athletic club worried about competition, turned down a $2 million bond to fix up the Racquet Club.

Officials sent the 28-question survey to about 2,500 addresses in the city limits in the last 10 days. They are trying to gather data about a range of recreation issues, including which facilities people use most often, how they rate them and what sort of programs they need.

At least three of the questions mean to elicit answers regarding financial support for recreation.

In one, the city asks about the future of the Racquet Club, the City Hall-owned facility in Park Meadows, under the assumption the cost to taxpayers is the same. Answers include renovating the existing Racquet Club or building a new facility.

Another question asks how much more in property taxes Parkites would pay for recreation, with the answers topping out at more than $200 annually. A question asking whether people would support what is described as a "tax referendum" for recreation follows.

"They want upgrades," Park City Councilwoman Candy Erickson says about regular Parkites. "We’ll find out with the survey what they want."

But the government is cautious when it considers recreation upgrades that may compete with the city’s health clubs. Changes in Racquet Club policies have in the past brought a lawsuit alleging that the city is unfairly competing with the private sector.

Stanton Jones, the owner of Silver Mountain Sports Club, with locations in Prospector and at Kimball Junction, campaigned against the $2 million bond that voters rejected in 2001. Some credit his opposition with influencing voters against the $2 million.

He says he filled out the survey, answering that he supports a recreation bond for fields, a skate park, dirt-jump park and trails. If the city wants to use bond revenues for equipment and facilities that compete with his business, he would vote ‘Nay.’

"I support recreation. I just don’t support direct competition with private industry," Jones says, repeating his argument against the 2001 bond measure.

For more than a decade, with City Hall flush with cash as Park City boomed and voters approved more money, public recreation offerings have expanded rapidly. The skateboard park at City Park, the Park City Ice Arena at Quinn’s Junction and the fields complex outside the ice arena are among the notable additions.

At the Racquet Club, the city has since 2001 invested a little more than $900,000 to build a new pool, renovate locker rooms and install a new roof, says Ken Fisher, who helms City Hall’s recreation programs. The city made the improvements after the bond failed.

"It’s not as rundown as it was in 2001," Fisher says.

Fisher does not expect the Racquet Club would be sold or torn down, regardless of the survey results. The building occupies a prime spot at the intersection of Monitor Drive and Lucky John Drive. Razing it would be politically risky as it is used for numerous functions, including Sundance Film Festival screenings, and there are private-sector interests inside.

"It would be an expensive proposition, millions of dollars," he says. "I don’t think we’d be looking to build a new facility."

The Racquet Club was built in 1973 and City Hall bought it in 1986. Subsequent renovations occurred in 1989 and 2003, Fisher says.

If the city pursues a recreation bond, it seems likely it would be placed on the 2007 ballot, when three City Council spots, those now held by Erickson, Marianne Cone and Joe Kernan, will be decided.

Parkites were last asked to approve a bond in 2006, when they overwhelmingly agreed to fund another $20 million in open-space purchases through a tax increase.

Fisher says the survey results will influence the government as it decides whether to pursue a bond and, if so, what sort of improvements will be sought.

Some of the bigger projects the survey identifies as possibilities include a second ice sheet at the Quinn’s Junction arena, new fields and an 18-hole golf course, which would be the city’s second public course.


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