Slow down on BAC; what about Sakai?

  • Saturday, July 24, 2021 1:30am
  • Opinion

The Bainbridge Island Metropolitan Parks District is playing a shell game with the citizens of BI. Instead of developing the Sakai property as promised, they’ve now agreed to purchase the Bainbridge Athletic Club for $13.15 million. They claim this makes financial sense, saying that the Sakai Community and Sports Center would cost over $55 million to develop. But the 2017 Sakai Concept Plan Report estimates the cost to be $25 million. It’s unlikely the cost has increased 120% in 3½ years.

In the June 17, 2021, BIMPRD public meeting executive director Terry Lande stated the $13.15 million to buy the BAC would be financed by revenue bonds supported by BAC-only user fees. The board then passed a resolution authorizing the signing of the BAC purchase agreements. Then in a July 1 BIMPRD public meeting, the board presented a commercial bank loan instead of revenue bonds.

In the July 15 BIMPRD public meeting the board authorized $13.5 million in general obligation bonds to guarantee the bank loan. General obligation bonds are paid by taxpayers. If the BAC user fees don’t generate the revenue to pay the bank loan, taxpayers are obligated to make up the difference.

So…the BIMPRD agreed to buy the BAC using revenue bonds, then changed to a bank loan guaranteed by the taxpayers without further discussion or authorization.

The SCSC is a central location. It’s in Winslow, near schools and the library. It’s easily accessible by car, walking, biking and public transit. The BAC isn’t in a central location. It’s near the top of NE Koura Road. Access is through an unmanaged intersection off of Highway 305. There’s no public transportation, and it’s a slog to ride a bicycle up Koura. Walking from schools isn’t realistic.

Then there is the parking challenge. The BAC enjoys a conditional-use permit that requires 100 parking spaces. It states that “No parking shall be allowed outside of the permanent marked stalls…” But overflow routinely occurs, and members park in the Meadowmeer Golf Club parking lot and along neighborhood roads. This already violates the conditional-use permit. Adding the 16 employees of the BIMPRD and even more users at BAC will make a bad situation worse.

The voters approved the purchase of the 23 acre Sakai land for $5.9 million in 2015. The SCSC is to cover only about 25% of the land with the rest left as open space, trails and picnic areas. It makes no sense to abandon this community asset to purchase a private health club. Converting the BAC from private to public ownership and responsibility doesn’t add a new facility to the island. Building the SCSC does.

The BIMPRD admits that they haven’t developed their operational strategy for the BAC. They have no financial projections. In fact, the board claimed they would prepare their strategy and projections after closing the transaction. What? How can we know if it makes financial sense if they don’t have a plan?

At one public meeting, they said that existing member agreements will be canceled at closing and switched to user fees. At another public meeting, they stated they changed their minds and will continue to honor the member agreements, but add user fees for the public. This presents a potential dilemma. What if the members decide that paying user fees makes better economic sense for them? Members could switch to user fees, making target revenue difficult to sustain. Isn’t having two “classes” of users — members and public — a recipe for confusion and conflict?

In closing, there are just too many unanswered questions. We’re asking the BIMPRD to slow down the process and engage with the public. This requested delay may postpone the closing, which is scheduled on or before Aug. 31. We, the taxpayers, should have significant input on this decision. For details, visit savesakai.com.

David Knight and Eileen Nicol are members of the Save Sakai Ad Hoc Group

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