An outside research firm will survey Blaine residents’ appetite for a community center.

The City Council agreed to spend no more than $22,000 for ANA Research of Arden Hills to conduct the survey.

Blaine has toyed with the idea of building a community center for decades. Voters shot down a plan to build one in 1998.

That was 17 years ago. Since then, the city has grown from 45,000 residents to more than 60,000, including a bump in young families with children, Mayor Tom Ryan said.

Last year, the City Council agreed to form a community center citizen task force to re-examine the idea. The group, made up of about 20 residents and stakeholders from local schools and sports groups, recommended the community survey.

Ryan said the city is taking a careful, measured approach.

“We are doing it a little at a time and the elected people are staying out of it,” Ryan said. “We are doing a survey of what people want and what people are willing to pay for. [Community centers] are not a moneymaker. They lose money, but so do parks.”

Ryan said that he personally supports the concept of a center but that it would become a reality only if voters approved funding with a referendum.

That can be a tough sell. Ryan said some members of the City Council have already expressed skepticism at the expense.

In 2010, neighboring Coon Rapids scaled back plans for a $46.5 million community center project in the face of vocal opposition. Instead the city built the Coon Rapids Ice Arena, a $13 million project, and put plans for a community center on the back burner.

Mayor Ryan said capital costs for a Blaine center would run in the tens of millions of dollars and then cities typically subsidize the annual operating budget.

Last spring, city staff researched nearby community centers in New Brighton, Maplewood, Maple Grove, Shoreview and Andover. None of the five is self-sufficient. All of the cities built the centers with the understanding that the general fund would subsidize them, much like public parks and golf courses. Annual subsidies ranged from a high of $598,000 in Maple Grove for 2013 to a low of $125,158 in Andover.