Saving for a rainy day with $5 million donation for community recreation center

The plan to build a community recreation center in Ely has made a significant leap forward.
The announcement of a $5 million anonymous donation with no strings attached stunned the volunteer board when it was announced June 15. The excitement level in the room jumped 10 levels and the realization that the project could happen was felt throughout.
This donation will not pay for the construction of a 50,000 square foot facility. It may not even pay for half. Of course, we hope there are other generous contributors out there looking to help out as well.
With an estimated price tag of $10 to $12 million, there will likely be a match to be made from the state of Minnesota’s bonding bill process. A similar project in Hermantown received $8 million in the most recently approved bill.
This project will prove to be a worthy recipient of bonding money with its regional draw. What it lacks are several key components at this point in time.
Number one is an agreed upon location. There will be discussion by the school board at a study session Monday on whether the ISD 696 campus could be the recreation center’s home. Hopefully this is a two-way discussion involving those who have worked so hard to bring the information to the board.
Number two is a funding source to pay the bills when the expenses outpace the income. This may prove to be the project’s biggest hurdle. A similar project in Grand Marais (also located at the school) has commitments of $50,000 per year from the city and the remainder from Cook County.
That makes sense in Grand Marais. There really isn’t much else in that county other than public land and Lake Superior. We don’t have the same situation here. St. Louis County is not going to enter into an agreement to pick up the tab. And it’s certainly not fair to expect the city of Ely to foot the bills either.
What does make sense is taking a portion of the private monies and putting them away for a rainy day. Make no mistake, there will be rainy days. A community recreation center will have operating expenses, upgrades and improvement costs that will outstrip the income. Why not put money aside to pay for those costs now?
Using the Cook County situation as an example, what if there was enough money put away to pay for 10 years of losses? Or better yet 20 years of losses? This would certainly make a decision from a government entity to support the project much easier.
As we’ve pointed out previously, local government funding for an expense that benefits the community is nothing new. The library is the perfect example. Mainly supported by the city at a rate of $281,700 per year, the library also receives financial support from area townships.
Could a similar situation be arranged for a community recreation center? Possibly. But it would be a whole lot easier if there were seven figures worth of back-up funds sitting in an account to tap when times were tough.
To have $5 million for this project at this stage is truly a blessing. Now the hard work starts. It might be a simpler solution to just task all of that money for construction. We’d like to see a broader vision for the future, both on sunny and on rainy days.