Describing it as among the most significant community-enhancing projects the city has ever discussed, the Coon Rapids City Council approved going forward with planning for its first community center, which could cost more than $20 million.
The center could include a swimming pool, an ice arena, and space for teen and senior programs. It would probably be located on Coon Rapids Boulevard, a commercial corridor on the city's west side that officials want to see revitalized after a slump in recent decades.
At a work session on Tuesday, the City Council directed its staff to form a task force to help define what a community center would look like -- and ultimately what it would cost.
"Let's not drag our feet. Let's get this rolling. I want to see this happen," Mayor Tim Howe said at the meeting where the council unanimously voiced its support for exploring the project.
Although the cost hasn't been determined, the city has been talking with community leaders about what amenities a center should include. If every feature discussed is included, the center could run $20 million to $30 million, said city manager Matt Fulton.
"But it's way too early to estimate what the size of the building would be," he said.
Under a preliminary timeline, a site would be selected in the summer of 2008. Construction would begin in April 2009 for a spring 2010 opening.
Talks will probably cover the method of public financing and whether corporate or other partners would be involved.
Although council members supported the idea of a community center, some members, including Scott Schulte and Denise Klint, said there is the potential for costs to escalate beyond what they would be willing to approve.
About 63 percent of residents surveyed support building a center versus 27 percent who oppose it, according to a poll conducted by the firm Decision Resources and commissioned by the city. The survey, of 400 randomly selected residents, was presented to the city at Tuesday's work session.
The poll had a sampling error of plus or minus 5 percentage points, said Decision Resources president Bill Morris.
"At least in terms of the concept itself, it's a very popular concept, with almost two-thirds of residents supporting a community center," he said.
The poll indicated a strong level of support -- higher than 60 percent -- for space to house senior and teen programs, an indoor track and swimming pool, a child care center, meeting and banquet spaces, and a gymnasium.
Ice or no ice?
The survey results did not show a majority of support for packaging a new ice arena with the community center -- something the city is considering because its current facility, Cook Ice Arena, is more than 30 years old.
Support for a new ice arena with the community center was divided at 45 percent in favor and 45 percent opposed. Still, Morris said, that's relatively strong support.
"Ice arenas are always polarizing," he said. "Anytime an ice arena is opposed by less than two-to-one, you're running ahead of the norm."
The city has about $100,000 in its 2008 budget for planning a center, Fulton said. Part of that process would probably include tours of other cities where such community centers have been built, including Monticello, Woodbury, Maple Grove and neighboring Andover.
The center in Andover, geared mostly to a sports market, opened in 2005 at a cost of roughly $20 million, said Andover city manager Jim Dickinson.
It includes a field house, an ice arena, meeting spaces and a YMCA, which leases space from the city. The city subsidizes the operation at a cost of roughly $100,000 per year, Dickinson said, a figure the city is satisfied with.
Eric M. Hanson • 612-673-7517