Andersen: Sticker shock over rec center | AspenTimes.com

Andersen: Sticker shock over rec center

The alarm bells are ringing in my head. Everything I see promoting the Mid Valley Recreation Center is screaming, "No!" Higher taxes, huge public debt, more traffic and growing urbanization are off track for why we live here.

Promoters of the 63,000-square-foot facility (larger than the Aspen-Pitkin County Airport terminal) promise all kinds of health benefits, even including cancer prevention. Then why is the proposed center making me ill?

Size and scale are reason enough. This thing is a monster that would consume tax dollars and open park lands and natural resources. And all for an urban indoor exercise experience that you could find in suburban Denver.

There's a lot of money riding on this proposal, starting with a $25 million bond issue that is guaranteed to raise local taxes. Promotional fliers state that the new center would reduce stress, but anyone on fixed incomes or struggling back from the Great Recession should feel plenty of stress from the higher taxes this project would demand.

The suggested benefits of the center include almost miraculous claims of combating child obesity, osteoporosis, diabetes, heart disease and stroke. I'm leery about grandiose claims that make this center sound like the salvation of the Roaring Fork Valley. Treadmills and mirrored exercise rooms don't do that for me.

The so-called "secondary benefits" are based on material values like growing businesses, pushing residential demand, attracting professionals and raising property values. This assumes that water slides, basketball gyms, anti-gravity training and exercise classes are the reasons people choose to live here. It assumes that raising property values along with property taxes is a metric that makes sense.

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This leads to my biggest criticism of the proposed center: that indoor recreation is what we need to become a better community. My God, we live in a paradise of public lands encompassing wilderness areas, hiking trails, bike paths, playing fields, ski mountains, rivers and lakes!

Visitors come from around the world to witness the drama of mountain peaks at Maroon Lake; to marvel at wilderness areas such as the Flattops, the Snowmass-Maroon Bells and the Hunter-Frying Pan; to wander aspen forests in fall colors; to fish the limpid waters of the Fryingpan and Crystal rivers; to breathe fresh mountain air; and to feel the elemental pulse of nature.

One of the greatest threats to the future of humanity is the growing trend away from nature. When children are cordoned off indoors, they are denied contact with the primal world that gives life meaning. Glossy indoor recreation centers are a huge part of this dilemma, becoming the equivalent of a shopping mall for consumers of entertainment-based recreation.

I can appreciate that many parents who support the center see it as a mammoth baby-sitting facility, a place to shuttle the kids for a few hours so they can work or go shopping. But I know many families that would rather save tax dollars to spend on a backpacking trip, a desert canyon adventure or a ski tour to the 10th Mountain Huts.

If the proposed center passes, there will be no choice from residents within the taxing district. They would be compelled to pay for a facility they may never use. They would struggle harder yet to keep up with the rising costs of living. Indoor recreation would become a burden, not an asset.

Advocates on both sides of this issue will argue the cost/benefits of the proposed center, but both agree that it is huge, ambitious and expensive. This is the Lexus of rec centers, the epitome of an urban playground. This venue would require a massive infrastructure that would consume loads of natural resources, guzzle energy and spew carbon emissions.

I'm hoping that residents of the proposed tax district still value outdoor recreation as the reason we live here. I'm hoping that this big, new, shiny complex doesn't lure them away from the deeper source of health and fitness that lies right outside our doors.

Look at the costs of Crown Mountain, and you, too, will feel sticker shock from a tax bill that should not be paid now or long into the future.

Paul Andersen's column appears Mondays. He can be reached at andersen@rof.net. Connect with him on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/paul.andersen.9003.