Edited 6/10 at 1:30 p.m. - Councilman Daren Meis said “I’m all for putting this vote off," rather than "I'm all for putting this boat off," as was previously reported.
A controversial ordinance authorizing the construction of a $40.4 million recreation center passed 5-1 in the Allen City Council chambers Tuesday night.
This vote, which specifically authorized the city manager to broker a private contract for the construction of the proposed Stephen G. Terrell Recreation Center, was made after over 75 minutes of intense deliberation, debate and public comment.
Local activists have criticized the project as being an unnecessarily exorbitant burden on taxpayers, with dissenting public comment ranging from suggesting the project go to the private sector to waiting until the end of the COVID-19 pandemic to revisit the proposal.
“As a single mom and fiscally responsible taxpayer, I am opposed to approving this expenditure and resulting contract, particularly during a time when [the] construction supply chain is constrained and building costs are skyrocketing,” said Allen resident Michelle Bishop to the council. “Please consider delaying the execution of this contract and the approval of the associated costs funded by the taxpayers of Allen so that we have an opportunity to regroup and evaluate priorities and vote on this important, $40 million project.”
Councilman Daren Meis also supported the delay of the contract, saying, “I’m all for putting this vote off for six months, nine months. I fully support that type of decision this evening.”
Meis, who was the only council member to vote against the project, also suggested that city officials evaluate the feasibility of a private sector voucher program, which Mayor Ken Fulk said was not explored.
“We have a lot of private sector solutions for the features that we want to provide,” he continued. “If we haven’t looked into a voucher system with the private sector, maybe we [should] consider doing that before we spend this kind of money.”
Lame duck Councilwoman Lauren Doherty dismissed the assertion that the project is fiscally irresponsible in pointing out, among other things expressed by Allen Parks and Recreation Director Kate Meacham, that the per-square-foot price for the construction was considerably lower than those of other cities such as Southlake and Lewisville.
“We’re not putting in a lot of fancy bells and whistles. We’re creating a facility that serves the needs of the community and not going overboard with it,” she said.
Doherty also argued that because the only alternative to using bond money to fund the project is to purchase it outright, thereby directly increasing taxes, delaying the project is not economically feasible.
Fulk, who called the proposed recreation center “one of the most significant citizen-driven projects that I think I’ve ever seen conducted within the city of Allen,” opined that a pause of the project would cause the city to incur more costs for the facility in the long run.
As the council cast its votes, residents who voiced opposition to the project groaned and left the gallery en masse, with one person loudly saying, “It’s a mistake.”
The namesake of the facility, former Allen Mayor Stephen Terrell, was in attendance at the meeting.
The Stephen G. Terrell Recreation Center is expected to break ground along West Exchange Parkway in July, with a forecasted grand opening slated for early summer 2023. Amenities provided by the facility include fitness equipment, an indoor playground and a basketball court. Despite the athletic emphasis of the facility, Meacham told the council that it is also envisioned as a “community gathering” space.