Saturday, May 10, 2008

Why I voted against a new rec center

Can a prog-blogger really be progressive if he/she/it votes against cultural and recreational amenities to the city?

On Tuesday, Laramie County held a special election. The ballot had four items seeking funding through the county's sixth-penny tax. The largest and fourth ballot initiative, the one that generated a lot of heat but very little light on the op-ed pages, asked voters to approve a $55 million recreation center. It was a fine-looking rec center, one designed to have an amenity for every taste. Want kilns to bake your pottery? We got it. Want several pools for lap swimming? We got it. Want an indoor walking/running track to avoid winter frostbite and wind attacks? We got it? Want a special section for old codgers to work out in peace while they talk about how rotten the government is? We got it.

In the end, it was too much. The rec center initiative went down in flames while the other three initiatives passed. So, no rec center. But voters okayed almost $3 million for the very popular Greenway, and more than $2 million for design work for the very popular Botanic Gardens and the not so popular airport terminal. We also gave thumbs up on $60,000 for a new sprinkler system in the Pine Bluffs cemetery, and $137,000 so the town of Burns can buy a garbage truck and lease a police car.

I voted yes on 1, 2, and 3, but no on 4. The rec center was too big and unwieldy. City leaders could never decide how much money it was going to cost to run. It was not "green" enough -- designers hadn't incorporated enough energy-saving technology. But most of all, I voted against it because the city had not consulted with the non-profit YMCA and the for-profit exercise centers to see how they could all work together on making Cheyenne a healthier place. I have to admit that my wife works at the YMCA, so I'm far from unbiased. But why didn't people from the city rec department talk to the YMCA? Did they look upon the Y as a threat to their own project? Probably. But the YMCA of the USA is the biggest non-profit in the country and has decades of experience in sports and fitness and even cultural programs. They specialize in programs for youth and families. They have daycare and after-school care for kids. They offer scores of programs for Active Older Adults. Could the YMCA staff have provided valuable advice to the city? Yes. Was it sought out? No.

So I voted "No" on the rec center.

Editor of the Wyoming Tribune-Eagle, Reed Eckhardt, wrote in his Saturday editorial today that "the city's reach finally exceeded its grasp." Reed was a champion of the rec center, his paper one of its primary promoters. He sees the rec center as an amenity necessary for a progressive city. When he says "progressive," he means "progress," as in Cheyenne is making progress "with the idea that it can be a great Front Range community." He's always railing against the "naysayers" who want Cheyenne to remain the same high plains backwater it has always been. He promotes the plans of Cheyenne's progressive major, Jack Spiker, and the more forward-looking members of the City Council, such as bicycle shop owner Patrick Collins.

"Cheyenne has come a long way under their direction -- and they need to show the voters just that. They must not concede the direction of this community to go-slowers and naysayers who fret that Cheyenne is going to become Wyoming's Fort Collins, whatever that means."

For readers outside of this region, some explanation may be in order. Fort Collins is the Colorado city 45 minutes south of Cheyenne. To many in Cheyenne and Laramie, it is the land of (soy) milk and (organic) honey, a common destination for those seeking Thai food, independent films, and a plethora of shopping opportunities. On Friday nights, teens motor to Fort Collins to cruise College Avenue in search of ways to get into trouble further from home. In 1988, I dragged my family from Denver (Gomorrah of the Front Range) to Fort Collins so I could attend grad school. To Denverites and especially those citizens of Boulder (Sodom of the Flatirons), Fort Collins was a hick town, home of the aggie college, second-rate when compared to CU. But I loved The Fort, as did my wife and son. When I graduated and went to work in Cheyenne, our friends in F.C. looked on in wonder and asked, "Where's Cheyenne?" You see, it's a lot farther from F.C. to Cheyenne than it is from Cheyenne to F.C., as it's uphill all the way.

One more Fort Collins note. When city leaders were looking for a new slogan, they asked residents for their responses. One of the funniest was this: "Fort Collins -- Where Cheyenne Shops."

Funny, yet true, at least at the time. In the early 1990s, before Sam's Club and Super Wal-Mart, we used to travel to F.C. to shop. Our family had blossomed with another issue, and this issue needed a lot of diapers and stuff. The rest of us continued to eat with no let-up in sight. So every couple weeks we hopped in the car and joined the weekend exodus to The Fort.

Cheyenne still doesn't have a Thai restaurant, although the Mexican and Chinese food selections are pretty good. We now boast a Sam's Club and Super Wal-Mart. Alas, I no longer need their services as the son has flown the coop and the daughter is a vegetarian and is satisfied with occasional helpings of birdseed and tofu.

Maybe I'm getting less progressive in my old age. But I did not vote no on the rec center because I am afraid that Cheyenne is becoming like Fort Collins. I voted no on the rec center because city leaders had not done their homework and they were not following their own advice to seek out collaborations when there's something big you want to accomplish.


jhwygirl said...

I railed against a $70 million performing arts center, Michael. Like your city, ours (I felt) hadn't thought it through, and raising that kind of cash (plus the free land it expected from the city) would have severely hurt many very worthy non-profits here in Missoula.

Yes, you can be progressive and vote against stuff like that. It's called common sense. It can't go out the window with any ideology. To be successful, it's gotta work.

Sounds like you voted in some nice amenities - the Greenway, the Botanic Gardens - and that is a move forward in a practical way, especially in these economic times.

Besides, do you really want Cheyenne to be so attractive that it becomes a bedroom community for Denver? Missoula's now the bedroom community for Californians, and look where that's gotten us in taxes and real estate prices.

mpage225 said...

Damn, Mike, several pools for swimming laps and you voted against it? If they had passed that, I might have talked Debbie into moving to Cheyenne...

Michael Shay said...

Bob, whose side are you on, anyway? The YMCA has a perfectly good pool. And a great whirlpool. And the family gets a free membership because Chris works there.