Senator Berta Gardner

June 5, 2013

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Serving Midtown, Spenard, and UMed

716 W. 4th Ave. Suite 340
Anchorage AK, 99501

Phone: 907-269-0174
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Did You Catch It?

Dear Friends and Neighbors,

Senator Gardner working on the Senate Floor
Senator Gardner working on the Senate Floor.

        When the 2013 capital budget was complete, Alaskans found that, as always, it included some surprises. There is no question every single budget item has both fans and detractors, but one project in particular, located in the Huntington Park neighborhood of Turnagain, is raising questions.

        At some point during the budget process, unspecified funds for "Indoor Multi-Use Court Facilities" (that includes six indoor tennis courts, two basketball half-courts and 300 seating capacity bleachers) adjacent to the Dempsey Anderson Ice Arena was quietly inserted into the "Project 80's Deferred and Critical Maintenance" line item.  

        While we cannot know how the Governor felt about this approximately 8-10 million dollar brand new facility, we can assume he had no interest in vetoing the $37 million line item, which included important work for deferred and critical maintenance of a broad range of 1980's era public facilities, including the Ben Boeke and Dempsey Ice Arenas, Sullivan Arena, Harry J. McDonald Memorial Center, Anchorage Center for the Performing Arts, Egan Center and the Anchorage Museum at Rasmuson Center.  

        The Turnagain Community Council, and many of the neighbors, have identified numerous concern about the location of the indoor tennis court facility proposal. Council President Cathy Gleason and I met this week with John Rodda, Director of Parks and Recreation for the city, and while he had assurances regarding many of our questions, I think it is fair to say that there are still plenty of issues to be addressed, including these from the Community Council:

        *Loss of existing parking spaces at the Dempsey site to accommodate the new facility, which already lacks adequate parking and will have additional need with the opening of tennis courts and other proposed sport uses.

        *Traffic flow and safety issues for those exiting the parking lot to westbound Northern Lights Blvd, and/or across to eastbound Benson.

        *Impacts on roadway aesthetics, buffering and trees.

        *Cost of hauling snow off-site, which is now stored on-site.

        *Conflicts with the 2010 West High and Romig Middle Schools Master Plan, which proposes access from the joint campus to W. Northern Lights Blvd. in the same footprint where the new indoor tennis court facility is proposed.

        *Public funding going to a new Municipal recreation facility, when there are many funding needs to appropriately upgrade/repair the Dempsey Ice Arena. 

My own concerns are these:

         *Lack of a plan for operating and maintaining a new facility, particularly critical in a community which has seen, and will continue to see, declines in funding for parks and recreational facilities generally.  

         *It appears that the indoor tennis facility is a request of the Anchorage Tennis Association (ATA) and the city Administration.  It has not been fully vetted by the public and was not part of the Municipality's formal budget request for state funding.  (The ATA did meet with the Turnagain Community Council in February, looking for support, and while the Council didn't object to the concept of an indoor tennis court, they had a myriad of questions about the proposed location, which the ATA was largely unable to answer at that time.)

        *The ZJ Loussac Library, flagship of our public library system, is one of the Project 80's facilities in desperate need of safety and functional upgrades.  Though their request had been thoroughly vetted and supported by the Municipality, this facility got zero funding.  My suspicion is that it was bumped in favor of a new and un-vetted project requested by the Anchorage Tennis Association and the city Administration, a project which will be of use to a select and much smaller part of our population.

        *I am not convinced of the need for additional indoor tennis courts and even if there is a need, I am skeptical that the public at large would put it first in line for direct state grants. Perhaps the public would prefer funding libraries (and keeping them open), increasing public hours at existing school swimming pools, etc. 

        *Additionally, such a facility is in direct competition with existing private industry, such as The Alaska Club.  Is this not an issue for fiscal conservatives and small government proponents?  In discussions with The Alaska Club I was told that with their 9 existing tennis courts, they are "bleeding" because of lack of demand.  The Alaska Club is currently trying to sell an Anchorage tennis facility which includes 5 indoor courts, 3 outdoor courts, a fitness center, locker rooms, showers and ample parking.  The list price is $3.7 million....a fraction of what our new facility will cost!   I was told that if the new state-funded facility opens, The Alaska Club will close their tennis facilities. 

        What can we do? An update on the proposed indoor tennis court is on Turnagain Community Council's June 6th agenda: Meeting starts at 7:00 p.m. at the Turnagain United Methodist Church, 3300 W. Northern Lights Blvd.  In addition to this meeting, there will be opportunities for public input as the planning proceeds, though this may happen through the summer.  I expect the Community Council will be participating and I urge others who are interested to get involved by asking questions and commenting.  If you provide us with your email addresses, we will keep a list and let you know about any scheduled meetings and hearings.

As always, I'm Berta, and I'm listening....

signed: Berta

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