Guest column: How the proposed Rifle recreation center got to where it is

Questions have been circulating regarding the process that was followed to get to the current proposal for the Rifle Recreation and Community Center. Let me try to clarify by giving you the background.

In 2007, the Rifle Regional Economic Development Corp. was formed, at the request of the city, as an organization composed of business leaders to study the feasibility of building and operating a recreation center in Rifle. The corporation began working with the city and Elevation Partners to bring a recreation center to the Rifle downtown area. This initial plan was conceived to be a multi-use, 106,000-square-foot facility with commercial space, a health clinic, a large-scale recreation center and a three-screen movie theater. It was thought the facility would occupy the land where Brenden Theatres now sits, and was referred to as the Health and Wellness Center.

In 2008, Mrs. Genevieve Clough donated $1 million to help move the project from an idea to a working model and plans. The donation was entrusted to the corporation, which contracted with Vandewalle & Associates, a downtown redevelopment consulting firm already working with the city, to provide the initial planning and budget forecast. It came in at approximately $33 million for construction. The project was on pace and investors were in line to help with this project. It was even certified as a tax-deductible enterprise zone project. Then the recession hit in late 2008 and changed everyone’s plans.

Elevation Partners pulled out of their Rifle projects. Then, when Brenden Theatres began their site selection, they told the corporation they would be interested in building a seven-screen theater. The theater would have to increase the size of its footprint on the site where the center was supposed to be located. The center had lost investors and its location.

To save the project, the corporation helped form a committee to manage and provide oversight for the project. A new site, Metro Park, was chosen for its centrality and because it had city-owned land large enough for the center. The committee hired experts from across the state, including Southwest Financial for bonding advice, GreenPlay for business planning, National Community Development Service for funding feasibility, Rifle architects Johnson & Carter for design and Adolfson & Peterson Construction, builders of the Rifle Branch Library, for construction estimates.

The original design was scaled back by removing commercial space, since it was agreed the center shouldn’t be competing with existing businesses. The design was cut from 106,000 square feet to 83,000 square feet, which would have included a third floor with office space, classroom space and a learning kitchen. This plan was once again revised down to the current Rifle Recreation and Community Center, which is a 65,000-square-foot facility with a planned cost of $21 million.

All financial estimates provided to us are worst-case scenario numbers, the construction costs are adjusted to accommodate overages and the revenue forecasts are based on the projected revenues of the center’s second five years of operation, when attendance typically levels off. Additionally, every plan for this facility has expected to include taxpayer-funded construction.

People have asked why we can’t just use the “penny” tax for the center. That tax was never intended to be used for construction; however, it will be used for operations. The proposed sales tax will allow us to build the project for a price and at a scale that will meet our current and future needs for years to come.

Michael Langhorne is the volunteer president of the Rifle Regional Economic Development Corp. and owner of Bookcliff Survey Services in Rifle.

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