Debates, small towns and voting

I’ve had a number of surprising interactions with people regarding the proposed bond vote. People who I know are very active, whose kids have played sports, who have driven 30 miles so their kids can practice indoors, have said they’re voting no. I’ve had people I consider friends ask me questions about it, listen to me explain the way in which it will operate, and basically say, “Well, that’s what you say.”  It’s been a struggle when people tell me they don’t believe what I’m saying, but then tell me to not take it personally or be offended. It’s been a learning experience, and I know for people on both sides of the issue it’s been a passionate debate and election.

At this point, I think it’s just an important reminder that we all still live in the same town. We are still part of the same team. As the FYSA, we worked toward what we believed to be something that would benefit the entire community on a number of levels. We believe this is a need. We know others believe it is a want or even something less. I do think, though, that we considered this a referendum. At least as a collective group, FYSA does not plan to attempt this project or a variation of this project again.

Small towns are great. Everyone knows everyone else. We bump into each other at Kroger, at church, going for walks in the morning. Today, the day after the vote, it is still the same small town. If you voted yes, thank you. If you voted no, we obviously would have preferred yes, but thank you. We appreciate everyone who voted. We should be proud of our voter turnout.

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We’re a little Lake Woebegon

Anyone out there listen to National Public Radio’s “Prairie Home Companion”? It has this recurring line: It’s a place where “all the women are strong, all the men are good looking, and all the children are above average.”

You know the sentiment – that it’s too good to be true.  We’ve heard people say that about the Recreation Center. That it can’t possibly be of benefit to seniors AND families with small kids AND teenagers AND young adults AND businesses. We hear people saying that we are just selling the project however we can spin it to get a vote.

There is something a little Lake Woebegon about Frankenmuth. Other communities look at us and ask us, How come Frankenmuth is so successful? Why is it safe? Why are the neighborhoods so well maintained? There is a tangible difference. If a neighbor isn’t mowing their yard, in Frankenmuth your neighbor will actually offer to help instead of calling City Hall. In Frankenmuth, people have a sense of civic duty. A “we can do this together” kind of attitude.

That’s why, to me, a recreation center has been a missing piece. A recreation center can be that place where everyone – regardless of age – has a  place to be. With kids. Without kids. Young. Old.

Have you ever read with a book club? Don’t you find it odd how everyone can read the same book – the same chapters – and bring a different perspective? That’s what this Recreation Center is.  That’s really what this vote is all about. Maybe you can’t see a need. Or even a benefit. Before you decide that, visit Center Courts or Freeland Sports Zone or the Midland Community Center. At any given time at Center Courts there are people of all ages walking. When I’ve gone there on my lunch hour, there is a group of home school students who come together to use the court for an organized PE class. There are pick-up basketball games. There’s chair yoga. There is a sense of community.  There are two older men – in their 70s I would say – who sit downstairs at the tables and read the newspaper and talk while their wives walk upstairs. Someone else may say Center Courts is where they go because that’s where their grandkids play basketball. Or that’s where they have “Music for Munchkins” with their daughter. Or that’s where they hosted their baby shower.

I’ve also heard that “we’re selling something different.”  That it’s nothing like Freeland Sports Zone. That we’re just saying that to get votes.  But compare what we are offering.

No one’s story is the same. Nor is someone’s motivation. Think about your story. Whatever your motivation, we want you to exercise your civic duty. Vote. We’d prefer that you vote yes, but vote.

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Isn’t 111 acres enough?

Believe it or not, there really is a standard of park space that is recommended for a community. It is recommend that there be 5 to 10 acres of park space for every 1,000 residents. Combining the City and the Township, we come up with 9,247 residents – so according to that standard, with 111 acres of park space, we are doing quite well.

Quality vs. Quantity

Just like with any “national” standard, there are other things to consider. With 111 acres of parkland – that’s .01 acres or 435 square feet per person – we would never want or need for additional space. But there is a difference between quality (in terms of access, use and location) and quantity (sheer volume of acreage).

The chart pictured below details the well-known parks in Frankenmuth. It totals 81.2 of the total 111 acres of park land available. By no means are we saying that Frankenmuth is not fortunate to have this space. Candidly, we have heard folks say that with 111 acres of parks, kids can find a place to play. However, we’d argue that not all of these 111 acres are designed for “active” uses and not all are as accesible as we think our community requires.

We Need Specific Fields, Not just Open Space

Our local schools have fields such as the ones we’ve included in the Rec Center design. In terms of facilities, there is a full-size soccer facility, a practice soccer facility, varisty baseball, varsity softball, two diamonds at List, one diamond at Rittmueller and the Horseshoe diamond behind the football field.

Whew. That’s quite a few huh?

But consider this: They are almost all continually booked, and not just with school events. Scheduling little league, t-ball, softball, is hard. Throw in practices for those teams and you can pretty much forget about getting space to teach your child how to bat. If you do not have kids that are of that sports age, you may not have noticed that space to play informally with friends and family is hard to come by.

Neighborhood Parks Are Great, But We Need More Parks with Purpose

And so then, what about the other 29.8 acres of parkland in the City? Why don’t we use all that space? Why don’t we practice/play there? The City is blessed with a variety of small parks. But the parks aren’t necessarily the active sort of spaces that you may think of. We’ve included some maps and imagery below. These are not all the neighborhood parks, but we wanted to include a few.  The locations and intensity of the parks are similar throughout the city.

So before you say that Frankenmuth has more than enough parks, drive by some of the other parks we have available. They are beautiful. They are well maintained. But they are open space. They are designed to serve those immediate neighborhoods as playfields and greenspace – not as a soccer field, not as a practice field.

There is a difference in quantity and quality. There is a difference between a want and a need. We have a wonderful park system. We also have an opportunity to make it better … make it even more usable.

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“But for this one thing”

I think fitness and access to recreation is like knowledge. It helps make people and communities strong.

I love the new location.

I hate the new location.

It needs an outdoor pool.

It will raise my taxes too high.

It shouldn’t have an outdoor pool but if it doesn’t have an indoor pool I won’t support it.

It needs to have a bigger track.

No one will use the track.

You may not believe it, but we really have been listening. We know that from what you’re saying, if we could just change this one thing, you would vote for this project.

If we could just add a pool now.

If we could just light all the fields. 

We would love to be able to promise you what you want because we want your support. But we won’t. We can’t. We are confident in our numbers in terms of being able to support this facility as sized based on 15 events per year. We think this is a sizable request. To construct more of a facility would require more dollars AND it would be a risk in terms of long-term maintenance and operation.

As much as many of us on the Board would love to have a pool, it’s not financially sound at this point. We know that’s not what you want to hear. And we know that’s not the way to guarantee your vote. What we want to do is be as honest as possible – to tell you why we included what we did.

We know we are asking each homeowner to make an investment. We know that the current proposal is sound financially over the long term. We have built in flexible space on the second floor. This space could be used for a variety of things. We think it’s important to include a community room. How big does that room have to be? Could we work with the community to figure out great ways to use this space? Absolutely – as long as it doesn’t change our ability to make this space sustainable.

To change the proposal now to include a pool or to make the project far larger than what we had initially proposed would be to take a risk with your dollars.

Don’t vote based on the one thing the facility doesn’t have. The tax request that supports the Wicksom Library is .85 mils. Our request is .9 mills. When the library proposal was on the ballot I think I had been to the library once, maybe. I voted for it. I told other people to vote for it. Obviously my support wasn’t based on my daily visits to the library. It is based on the belief that I think books are great portals. It is based on the fact that I think free access to learning and encouraging people to read and learn regardless of age is important.

Looking at the recreation center, I think you have to ask yourself, “Is this important enough for the community that, even if I don’t go there – or even if I go only a few times  – or even if it doesn’t have a pool right away – that it is a benefit.”  

I think fitness and access to recreation is like knowledge. It helps make people and communities strong.

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How is this sustainable?

“What if this passes, but then isn’t successful?”
One of the best questions I’ve heard about this facility goes to the point of whether or not this project can be successful over the long term – whether or not it can be sustainable.

Funding for this project is two-fold. There are the upfront, capital costs for the building, land, site improvements. This is what we are seeking funding for now. The second part of the funding is operational and ongoing.

We have built into our project an escrow account of sorts that will be built up over time so that we have the dollars available to pay for things that will routinely need to be improved, repaired and replaced. Ongoing operation and maintenance costs are typically where communities struggle. Paying for heat, water, grass cutting,  snow plowing and staffing costs are usually what slowly eats away at a project like this. What happens when a furnace breaks? Or the AC malfunctions in August? How about re-sealing the parking lot in three years? Resurfacing the courts? Resurfacing the track?

This is where tournaments and events come in
In order to be sustainable and be able to pay for the property management and maintenance, we are looking at hosting events a minimum of 15 weekends a year. The tournaments would be a mix of basketball, volleyball, soccer, softball/baseball, etc. Even with the tournaments scheduled – whether they are inside or outside – the goal is to keep as much of the facility open for “drop in” use. For example, if it’s a basketball or volleyball tournament, we’d want to keep a court open. 

There would be limitations on use too. If our AYSO teams are using all the soccer fields, we obviously are not going to boot our own kids to host a tournament.  

The other thing to keep in mind is that a tournament does not necessarily mean 5,000 players. For example, we are talking about 10 volleyball teams – which is probably 110 players and parents, and maybe 100 cars. I know that in Frankenmuth we are used to always “going big.” The vast majority of the tournaments we are talking about would have an impact on local business by bringing in additional visitors (and helping to fund the Recreation Center), but in terms of added traffic or congestion – would mostly go unnoticed.

“But only a few people are going to use it”
We’ve heard the comments that this is just for a “few families” in Frankenmuth and if your kid is not in organized sports they won’t have a place here. This couldn’t be further from the truth. This is the place our parents wanted when they were kids and said there was no place to go. This is the place that we wanted when we were kids looking for a place to go. There will be times when tournaments occur and play will be limited based on the tournament in question. If there is a softball tournament, obviously the ball fields will be in use and there will be more people at the facility. Logistically it would be impossible to have a soccer tournament and a softball tournament at the same time. The FYSA have stated that its goal is for there to always be at least one indoor court available for open play/pick up play. We will be able to maintain sustainability while at the same time ensure that the facility’s primary use/function/benefit is for our own residents – all our residents, and not just kids on sports teams.

We are not a convention center
“The Center can also host larger-scale events like business and industry trade shows, consumer events.”  This is not unusual for a community recreation center.  Some hold mom-to-mom sales. Some rent themselves out for Millionaire’s Parties (Freeland Sports Zone). These events would not only draw people from out of town, but our local residents would find them of value as well.

We are trying to be transparent. One of the concerns we heard is a general disbelief that people travel for their children to play sports. We know they do. We think this project will be sustainable and successful based solely on recreational events. However, the last thing we want to do is NOT say it could be used for an event other than a recreation event and then be accused of not being forthcoming with the public. Think health fair. Could there be a “trade show event” that uses some of the facility in coordination with a hotel? Maybe. Maybe we are trying to be too specific. But we want to be honest. If some college wanted to set up shop for a day and host a special event that was related more to, say, recruiting students than to recreation, I think that’s a use we could consider. Our hope is that we will so easily meet our goal with 15 or so sports-related events over the course of a year and our local use will be so successful, that our facility will be “booked” to the extent we need it to be in order to create funding for operational costs.

Tournaments and events are not the sole purpose of the facility. They are a means to an end. We are a tourist town. People like to come here. If we are comfortable with tournament play and events on some (not all, not a majority, not even half) of the weekends throughout the year, we can let tourism sustain our recreation center.

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