LINO LAKES — Although the City Council wasn’t quite ready to pull the trigger on beginning the estimated six-month period it will take to get the former YMCA building up and running as the Lino Lakes Recreation and Community Center, city staff has received some direction as to what management model the council might want to pursue and to begin exploring possible partnerships further.
The council officially accepted the 73-page feasibility study report from Isaac Sports Group (ISG) last month. The study identified a few management options for the facility. These included a totally outsourced management model, a city-managed model, or a hybrid of the two.
Council members shared their thoughts and concerns regarding those options at a lengthy work session last week.
“We need to get to a point where we decide what we want to do. We know it is going to take six months to open the facility, and there are times of the year that would be better to open,” explained Community Development Director Michael Grochala. He noted that ideally, the facility would open to ring in the new year, and with that, capture members who set New Year’s resolutions. “We certainly want to make the best decisions for the right reasons to support the community.”
Council Member Michael Ruhland said, “Let’s go for it with the hybrid model.” He did note he wants to make sure the city is able to switch to the city-managed model should it need to down the road, and that city staff should be mindful of that when entering into contracts with partners.
Council Member Christopher Lyden said, “I’m with Mike. Full speed ahead with the hybrid (model).”
Council Member Dale Stoesz said he liked the idea of the city retaining management, but he understood the value of the hybrid model. He said he would also like to see the council and city staff begin discussions about what the facility director position would look like.
Mayor Rob Rafferty said although he wasn’t against the hybrid model, he wasn’t quite ready to say full steam ahead. “I’m behind it, but I’m not sold on the idea of a hybrid. We don’t have enough information … There are too many unanswered questions for how we get there,” he said.
Rafferty explained that he was concerned with how little public input the council has received from the public. “(The facility) has great bones, but the reality is, I’m still not sold on how we get all these things. We have to have a better way of getting comments. We had five people show at a meeting (June 28). I don’t know if that’s enough to make a decision on it. I think we need to fill in some blanks,” he said. “To make this really successful, this is going to be a major investment … it’s going to need a lot of whipped cream with a cherry on top just to get the doors open.”
City Administrator Sarah Cotton said the feedback city staff has received thus far has been positive and supportive. Grochala added, “The biggest question out there right now is if the city is going to open the facility back up; how we operate that is probably less important.”
Lyden said one perk of the hybrid model is that the city would not have to do all of this alone. “People aren’t going to come there just because of the building or for the equipment; they are going to come for programs, expert instructors that people buy into,” he said. “In the hybrid model, you are able to bring in all of these experts that really know how to run a program.”
Grochala noted that another benefit of the hybrid model is that many of the partners already have an established client base.
Ruhland added, “For what it provides to the community for the dollars that we are going to put into it, I don’t know how we say no.”
The council did not make any decisions on the preferred management model, but did direct city staff to begin exploring possible partnerships and continue developing a plan to move forward with the reopening of the facility.
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