Sunday, February 24, 2013

Aquatics bucks: This whole cost-benefit thing, and simple arithmetic?

The meat of Randy's post is a reconsideration of the numbers being floated as worthy of a banker's support for the aquatics center bond, which received its first positive council vote last Thursday.

Crippling Bond Issue Based on False Premises, by Randy Smith (The NewAlbanist)

 ... According to the newspaper of record, the Gahan administration is proceeding with plans for a $9 million aquatic center to be located at the failed site of the Camille Wright swimming pool off W. Daisy Lane.

Their professional design consultant, The Estopinal Group (and who else would you expect them to use?) says that a new outdoor facility can be expected to have 66,000 visits each year and to generate $932.000 in revenues. TEG asserts that the operating costs of the pool will not exceed $700,000 annually. Simple arithmetic yields a net revenue stream of $232,000 each year.

Oh, but that it were true.

The 6-3 vote in favor of moving forward is history. While retaining my overall doubts, I'll say that if we really must insist on defining our civic commitment to youth in terms of sports instead of brains, the greening of the squalid Hoosier Panel property makes better sense on multiple levels than the square-peg, round-hole aquatics center scenario; apart from serving as a bricks and mortar manifestation of mail order appendage enhancements in the context of the ongoing parks libido war between city and county, I fail to see the usefulness of the aquatics center.

Then again, I don't swim. The water gets in your beer, and it's plain nasty.

The most surprising aspect of last Thursday's pro-bond vote was the seeming exhaustion of the usual "no new spending" bloc. I've never seen such resignation going into a scrum; perhaps advanced age finally is taking its toll on the stalwarts. Like always, Erika Denhart rallied her troops -- and perhaps three attended. Her speech was Charlie Pride-laden boilerplate, and the vows of unceasing combat uncharacteristically hollow.

A handful of Republicans were collected, including Irv Stumler, who allowed himself to be taken down fairly easy by Dan "I'll have more of that drunken sailor expenditure, please" Coffey. Even the leather-jacketed former councilman, Steve Price, was unable to muster much of his patented oppositionist enthusiasm. Maybe they're preparing an ambush.

Until then, it would be nice to think that council persons like Scott Blair might contemplate whether the numbers really add up.


Jeff Gillenwater said...

Just mentioning again - and will probably continue to mention - that whether or not the individual pieces of this plan are worthy investments will largely come down to the amount of expenditure on each. Thus far, the estimated price tag for the various elements is ridiculously expensive and it's not like we haven't seen it before (very recently) via Rent Boy Park.

A pocket park on the corner? Sure. A million dollars or so for a poorly rendered, backyard-sized ego project? Insider bamboozling of the worst order.

When "public project" equates to patronage boondoggle, good rarely happens and great is impossible. This will be a good test of chutzpah for all involved. They failed magnificently with the pocket park. This is a chance for a make-up call.

Iamhoosier said...

The following comment was made to me after I remarked that I liked the plan for the multi use ballpark more than the pool, mainly due to the cost of the pool.

"You have to have all the bells and whistles to get people to come."

If we have to "beg" people to come to the pool, do we really need one? Especially an $8-9 million one?

My thoughts on the pool are continuing to evolve.

Jeff Gillenwater said...

I think some critics of the proposal are engaging in as much rhetorical "nostalgia" as they suggest is occurring on the other side of the argument. The 50s and 60s era comparisons are somewhat misleading as they don't at all represent what an aquatic center would entail. A swimming pool, in the classic sense, is just a small portion of most contemporary plans.

That said, there's plenty of recent evidence from around the Midwest and Midsouth to suggest that a center with "all the bells and whistles" can be built for between $1.5 and $3.5 million. The $7.2 to $8.3 million number being touted by the City is a joke.

Get the costs right and realistic, and the rest of the math starts to look quite a bit different. And that's important, not just for the success of those particular projects but for several other need improvements.

Shirley Baird made a salient point about incremental, interest-free financing, but NA tends to be far too fickle and vicious for it to actually work here. It's a no-brainer, though, that a city this size can float and fairly easily pay for a $20 million bond. Given NA's lack of investment in itself for decades, finally reaching that conclusion is a big, mostly positive deal. However, if we do it and all we get out of it are the recreational upgrades thus far proposed, I'll likely be among the first to say "no" next time.

Given the grossly overestimated costs presented, I actually find myself hoping that this proposal is part of a larger bait and switch deal: get the money approved and then do much more with it than anticipated. That's no way to lead, but it would be financially more responsible than what we're seeing on paper so far.