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Tennis courts a hot topic

By Fiona Edberg - Staff Writer | Sep 26, 2021

Volleys flew across the net at the regularly scheduled Blue Earth City Council meeting on Monday, Sept. 20. The council members once again discussed the construction of new tennis courts at Blue Earth Area High School.

Following meetings with the Tennis Court Subcommittee, city administrator Mary Kennedy brought project updates to the council.

Regarding the proposed layout of the new courts, Kennedy explained, “The subcommittee talked at length. For coaching and spectating reasons, a four-quad layout was selected.”

The committee’s preferred layout will include dedicated spectator viewing between the courts, enabling the facility to be encircled by a 10-foot fence to block the wind.

The Tennis Court Subcommittee and Kennedy also received a memorandum from Doug Green, director at Bakertilly Municipal Advisors, which offers municipal advisory services for local governments. Green’s analysis offered several options for funding the tennis courts.

“There are essentially four options that could pay for something like this,” Kennedy shared with the council.

The options include general obligation referendum bonds, general obligation abatement bonds, lease revenue bonds, and gross revenue recreation bonds.

While Kennedy said the city would be pretty unlikely to receive approval for a general obligation referendum bond, she acknowledged the second option of a general obligation abatement fund would ordinarily be the best route to pursue.

“It would be the best option, but it’s not an option,” Kennedy explained. “Right now, we are at our limit. We could look at paying off the Fitness Center bonds to open up our limits, but ultimately that will put us in the same situation we’re in now, with being at limit.”

Therefore, the council is weighing the pros and cons of pursuing lease revenue bonds versus gross revenue recreation bonds.

“Lease revenue bonds are through the EDA (Economic Development Authority) and are done with the bank. They are a little riskier, and they may not be marketable,” Kennedy shared. “They are risky because future (EDA) boards may not vote to pay it. Every year it has to be appropriated.”

As for the last option, Kennedy said, “Gross revenue recreation bonds may not stand legally. They could stand legally if we had some sort of cost sharing arrangement, but it depends on whether or not attorneys would sign off on that.”

Kennedy added there is the possibility of pursuing grants to mitigate the project’s costs, but they would not cover the full cost of the project.

Kennedy concluded, “There are options, but there are things we really need to look at. It’s not going to be as black and white as other projects we’ve done in the past.”

$1 million is the estimated starting point of the project’s total cost.

The city is working jointly with the Blue Earth Area School District to fund the courts.

“The city has entered into a cost-sharing agreement with the school district,” explained Kennedy.

Part of the arrangement involves the demolition of the tennis courts at Putnam Park, which fall under the jurisdiction of the city.

The Parks and Recreation Subcommittee has recommended the council allow Bolton and Menk to immediately begin necessary feasibility studies and prepare cost analyses for demolition of the Putnam Park courts.

The committee would like to redevelop the space into a multi-court athletic space, including one tennis court, one basketball court, and pickleball courts.

There was some disagreement regarding methods of funding both the construction in Putnam Park and the construction of the new tennis courts at the high school.

Mayor Rick Scholtes suggested, “If we’re doing this and we’ll have to do any bonding, I would like to tie Putnam Park with this (the tennis court project).”

He added, “We don’t have money sitting in the bank. We need to tie what happens here together to make it affordable for each side.”

Council member Glenn Gaylord, who has historically had misgivings about the tennis court project, responded, “We are talking about two different risk levels. One is not even our own project. I like the idea of bonding for it, but I wish it would be separate in some way,”

Scholtes countered, “But then you pay twice,” referring to fees incurred through issuing bonds.

Scholtes, in support of enabling both projects, concluded, “It’s a benefit to our community.”

“It’s a risk to our community,” Gaylord responded.

The council made no concrete decisions about funding on Monday night, agreeing to mull the matter over for future discussion.

Other business discussed by the council on Sept. 20 included: 

• Setting the preliminary budget for 2022. The council approved setting the total levy at $1,896,074.40, a number which falls comfortably within the 10 percent increase range. The Council hopes to whittle the levy down to a three percent increase before the final levy is certified on Dec. 20.

• An update regarding the Three Sisters project. Council member Ann Hanna inquired whether the project has received necessary permits for construction, as she has not seen permits posted at the building site. City attorney David Frundt shared it is possible the project has received a state permit, in which case the permitting does not have to operate through the city.

• A letter regarding the restroom facilities at the fairgrounds which was sent to City Hall. The letter stated the grandstand restrooms are “a disgrace,” and requested that the council appropriate funds to renovate them.

Scholtes explained that unfortunately, the restrooms are not the property of the city, and, as such, the council is unable to do anything to address the matter. He advised the anonymous author of the letter to contact the Fair Board so further action can be taken.

• Updates to street improvement projects which will be completed throughout 2022. City engineer Wes Brown, of Bolton and Menk, explained two blocks of Galbraith Street are in bad shape, and need more immediate attention. As such, they have been added as projects for next year.

To balance costs, improvements which were planned for blocks on 10th Street and 11th Street have been postponed, theoretically, until 2023.