BOWIE – Some Bowie City Council members are decidedly cold towards the proposal for a new city ice arena. The council voted 4-2 to approve a contract with Hughes Group Architects of Germantown for just more than $2 million to design and engineer a new indoor sports facility on a city-owned property on Church Road. […]
BOWIE – Some Bowie City Council members are decidedly cold towards the proposal for a new city ice arena.
The council voted 4-2 to approve a contract with Hughes Group Architects of Germantown for just more than $2 million to design and engineer a new indoor sports facility on a city-owned property on Church Road. The plan is to build a new facility containing basketball and volleyball courts and two sheets of ice, one NHL sized and one Olympic sized. However, councilmen Michael Esteve and Isaac Trouth expressed concerns about the costs of the project and ultimately voted against the engineering contract.
“I would consider this project a poster child example of a nice-to-have as opposed to a need-to-have project,” Esteve said. “This represents the largest single expenditure for an amenity in the city’s history, almost $28 million by the time we finish paying off the interest on the debt, and that does not include the nearly half a million dollars a year in operating losses it is expected to sustain.”
Esteve pointed to the city’s feasibility study on the project conducted for the 2016-2021 capital improvements program (CIP) budget to support his claims. According to council documents, that study’s original cost estimate of approximately $20 million was revised upward to account for “construction cost escalation that has occurred and that is anticipated to occur by 2019 when construction will start.” Hill International Inc., the project management firm hired by the city in September 2016, recommends a yearly construction cost escalation rate of 4.5 percent be built in, which would raise the total costs from $20.3 million to $24.2 million.
Council documents also note additional costs for a new sanitary sewer lift station at the site and “unique fill requirements” will further raise the price tag.
“Taking both cost escalation and site costs into account, staff recommends an increase to the (fiscal year 2019) CIP construction budget from $20.3M to $25.0M,” the document reads.
Esteve said the money the city is spending on the new facility could be used for other projects that many residents would consider more needed.
“Other ideas, like improving public transportation, putting more resources to our city’s education committee to promote local schools and addressing infrastructure needs like sidewalks and parks- these ideas become less achievable when we devote so many of our available resources to such a large, single amenity,” he said.
Other members voiced support for the project. Trouth said the rationale behind it was sound, because the new facility would give Bowie the ability to attract tournaments and other large sporting events, which would result in revenue from hotels and restaurants.
“Just look at Atlanta, Ga. There is nothing wrong with the Georgia Dome, yet still they are building a brand new facility next to the Georgia Dome. Why? Atlanta is a progressive city and Atlanta knows they want to recruit a lot of money coming in from other sports events,” Trouth said.
He also added the city has already decided its fee structure for sports facilities needs to be updated, and the existing ice rink already has a greater return on investment than the gym spaces do.
However, Trouth still voted against the project at this stage pending a staff report on the financial consequences of new development projects springing up around the city. Trouth said the sports facility plan was conceived around 2012 when the city was facing budget surpluses, and not the budget deficits it is facing now. While Esteve argued that tax hikes are likely coming to help the city make ends meet, Trouth said the new development projects and possible annexation of properties could grow the tax base, increasing the city’s revenue stream that way instead.
“There’s a possibility of expanding the tax base with Karington and also expanding the tax base with this other commercial property,” Trouth said. “I’d like to know what can we do to look at expanding that tax base, and kind of like put a button in this to see what we can do to have some additional information to look and see what this is going to do with regard to these additional projects coming on board.”
Councilman James Marcos is unequivocally behind the arena, making the motion to approve the engineering contract. He said, while he appreciated Esteve’s concerns, and those voiced by four residents at the meeting, many more constituents support the project.
“There’s two boys’ and girls’ clubs in this city. I want people to remember there’s 4,000 members in those groups. I haven’t seen 4,000 people in this auditorium, and there’s a lot of people that supported this.” Marcos said. Trouth added the idea for a new facility originated from those clubs.
However Esteve still maintained it wouldn’t be fiscally responsible to pursue the facility at this time.
“As staff have made painfully aware going into fiscal (year) 2017, and again as we approach fiscal 2018, we are facing projected shortfalls,” he said. “The fact is the city is not in a position to swallow this project at this time.”
He said he would have no objection to renovating the city’s existing ice arena at a cost of $1.3 million, although Trouth questioned if that figure was accurate.
The council will take one more vote on the project once the designs are finalized.