Downtown plant a possible site for recreation center

Published 10:10 am Thursday, March 12, 2015

Community Recreation Center Committee members must decide where to put a new recreation center before further plans can be made.

At a public forum Wednesday, committee members confirmed one of the two sites for the proposed $35 million rec center in downtown Austin is the old Austin Utilities plant on Fourth Avenue Northeast, but they said nothing had been set in stone as volunteers are looking into the costs associated with acquiring each site.

If the Austin Utilities plant were to be selected, committee members said the plant’s turbine room would likely stay and other parts of the plant which were architecturally sound could be renovated.

The downtown power plant is one possible option for the Vision 2020 Community Recreation Center.

The downtown power plant is one possible option for the Vision 2020 Community Recreation Center.

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The committee has researched other rec centers in communities like Andover, Minnesota, where cities share the rec center space with a local YMCA. Big changes could take place if the YMCA chooses to help run a rec center in Austin, but committee members say they hoped to make a rec center affordable and keep membership costs where they are currently.

The new rec center could have more amenities such as a large fitness space with a track for walking and running, an aquatic center featuring multiple pools, therapeutic sauna and whirlpool, and more.

Yet the final plan won’t be hashed out for some time.

Once the committee selects a site for the power plant, volunteers will have to negotiate with various partners to see who will run the rec center and how it will operate. Preliminary plans need to be drawn up, architects and construction companies will need to be hired, and volunteers expect to raise $5 million in a public fundraising campaign to go toward the rec center.

During all this, the committee will likely look for more feedback on the center.

“We’ll need input from the community to help raise the money to complete the project,” Committee Co-Chair Tanya Medgaarden said.

If all goes well, the rec center could break ground in 2017 and host a grand opening in 2018.

Several residents said they were excited for the rec center. Geoff Baker, president of the Austin Utilities Board of Directors, had several questions about the project but said he was excited for the rec center. Others felt the same way.

“I’m so excited,” Ann Hokanson, executive director of the Austin Public Library, said. “It’s going to be great.”