Wasilla council considers sales tax to pay for sport center

Posted: Thursday, December 06, 2001

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- The Wasilla City Council is considering a measure to raise the city sales tax to pay for a new multiuse sports arena that would include a hockey rink and basketball courts.

The city council will hold a public hearing Monday before deciding whether to ask residents to raise the sales tax from the existing 2 percent to 2.5 percent to pay the estimated $14.7 million cost of the center.

If approved by the council, the question would appear on the ballot in May. Voters would have to approve the sales tax increase before the center could be built.

The 104,000-square-foot complex would be about twice the size of the Ben Boeke Ice Arena in Anchorage.

It could seat up to 5,000 people and would include an ice rink and a cushioned hard-surface court where people could play basketball, volleyball and soccer, said Jim Blair, with GDM Inc., an Anchorage firm hired by the city to create a conceptual design for the center.

In addition to sports, the center could be set up to host conventions, trade fairs, theater productions, graduations and even motorcoss competitions, he said. It would be built on land just off the Parks Highway near the city airport.

Supporters of the center, including Wasilla Mayor Sarah Palin and many sports buffs, say they need more places to play indoor sports. The area's sole indoor rink at the Brett Memorial Ice Arena is so booked there are no openings until March, said clerk Stephanie Duboc.

A sports complex has been talked about for some time. Several years ago, voters in the area turned down a state grant to build a sports center, said Curt Menard Sr., who served on a nine-member steering committee Palin created to look at options for building a sports center.

The state grant required the borough pick up the tab for operating the center, Menard said.

Wasilla city residents would also have to pick up the tab for operating this center, but Blair said it eventually will pay for itself.

His company estimated the facility will cost about $600,000 a year to operate and will generate about $550,000 in user fees in its first year. After that it should break even, he said.

The main draws will be the ice rink and the hard surface court, he said. But hosting trade conventions and other events will help fill in the slow summer months. It would even have a walking track for seniors, he said.

''The market is definitely there,'' he said.

So far, the idea of building the center has generated little opposition at meetings, although Mat-Su Borough officials turned down a request from the city to help build the center.

Borough land manager Ron Swanson said officials were concerned the center would not pay for itself.

Swanson said the borough-operated Brett arena, opened in 1983, has yet to break even. But it came close last year, generating about $350,000 of the $380,000 it cost to operate.

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