After two months of back and forth about whether a rec center with public tennis courts should be built with grant money from the state legislature, the Anchorage assembly voted the idea down at their regular meeting Tuesday night.
Several options for what to do with the money meant for a rec center were introduced to find a way forward but none succeeded. Assembly member Amy Demboski introduced an amendment that would have sent $6 million back to the state and said the assembly should ask for a reappropriation for tennis courts.
“The Administration and Mr. Starr have put in so much work on this project and I appreciate it and both have tried to alleviate my concerns. But ultimately, when we come back to it project 80’s deferred and critical maintenance to me is just that,” Demboski said. “It’s not for building tennis courts, it’s not for buying a tennis facility. It’s for deferred and critical maintenance of existing structures.”
The Anchorage Tennis Association lobbied Juneau directly for the money to build a public rec center with tennis courts in the Turnagain neighborhood. Then millions for the project, which the Assembly did not request, were rolled into a $37 million allocation for infrastructure maintenance.
Most Assembly Members disagreed with the process. Some said legislators were unaware they had given money for the project. Assembly member Bill Starr said a smaller amount should be set aside for the time being and that returning the money was a bad idea.
“If we don’t send legislative intent or speak to it on the record or put it in a reserve account or whatever we run the risk of losing it. I’ve learned that we can un-appropriate the money,” Starr said. “Maybe the next assembly comes along and isn’t pro tennis and they decide to go back through whatever procedure un-appropriate the money and do something else with it. I think I would speak strongly against sending it back.”
Assembly member Tim Steele agreed.
“I don’t think it was a mistake that the legislature put money in and sent it down to us. I think it was a lobbying effort by the tennis association,” Steele said. “It happens all the time that entities other than the governmental entity goes down and lobbies for issues and gets money, on every level of government.”
Assembly member Chris Birch said the best idea was to scrap efforts for the rec center this time around and hope that a new request for the money is approved.
“To me the best bet would be that you know we’ve approved a capital budget request for facility upgrades that we’re going to be approaching the legislature with this session for $10.5 million for a multiuse sports facility,” Birch said. “And I think that that’s where this thing started and that’s where we should end up.”
Demboski’s amendment failed 8-3.
A measure introduced by Time Steele and Bill Starr’s setting aside smaller amounts for the project also failed.
Tennis supporters, who had the backing of Mayor Dan Sullivan on the project, seemed baffled and disappointed after the votes and said they’re determined to introduce new legislation right away to insure a rec center with public tennis courts is built.