With nearly $18 million in reserve funds, everyone has a different idea of how the City of Frankfort should spend its money.
At Monday night’s regular meeting of the Frankfort City Commission, the Frankfort YMCA asked the city for $2.5 million over five years by using the city’s bonding capacity to support construction of a new $9.5 million facility.
Paul Harnice, chair of the Frankfort YMCA’s board of directors, said the Frankfort YMCA and YMCA of Central Kentucky have been discussing a deal with the developer of Parcels B and C.
Marty Johnson, a Hazard-based developer and the sole proprietor of New Frankfort Development LLC, was awarded the bid on the parcels in November. He bid $1,000 on the property with the promise to invest millions in order to meet requirements set by the state.
The nearly 12-acre property is the site of the demolished Frankfort Convention Center and adjacent Fountain Place Shoppes. The property also includes the land under the existing YMCA building and Capital Plaza Hotel along with a parking garage that serves the current Y.
Through an open records request, The State Journal learned the New Frankfort Development team plans to build a new two-story, 30,000-square-feet YMCA at the northwest corner of Mero Street and the future Washington Street extension.
The State Journal called and texted Johnson for comment on Tuesday, but he did not respond by press time.
On Monday night, Harnice told city commissioners that the current YMCA building on West Broadway would be demolished to make room for new retail space if a new YMCA is built. The current building opened in the late 1960s.
Harnice said the deal would be a “rare, win-win situation” for the city, as the building would create a new tax base and bring in millions of dollars.
“Frankfort cannot afford to miss this opportunity,” he said.
A letter signed by Harnice and submitted to the city commission says the Y needs a decision from the city by March 1. Harnice said the developer has given the Y an April 1 deadline.
The new YMCA would feature a gymnasium, wellness center, swimming pool, group exercise space, child watch, a racquetball court and other amenities.
The deal for a new YMCA would require the Frankfort YMCA to abandon its lease with the state, which is set to expire in 2067.
On Tuesday, Harnice told The State Journal that the YMCA hasn’t had much discussion about when it would approach the state about the lease. Harnice said that conversation would happen when the YMCA has a better idea if this project is moving forward.
As for how the YMCA plans to come up with the rest of the funds for the new building, Harnice said there would be a capital campaign in which individuals and businesses would be asked to donate to the cause.
Harnice would not specify how much the YMCA plans to raise on its own.
“We would like to raise as much as possible,” he said.
In addition to asking the city for money and raising funds on its own, Harnice said it is likely the YMCA will make a similar financial request to the Franklin County Fiscal Court.
On Tuesday, Frankfort City Manager Keith Parker told The State Journal he met with YMCA officials a few weeks ago to discuss the city’s role in funding a new YMCA building, but he still has a lot of questions to ask.
“The commission has a tough decision to make,” Parker said, adding it is hard to say which capital projects the city commission should choose to fund this year.
One of those difficult decisions concerns synthetic turf fields, which also resurfaced at Monday’s meeting. The city has been asked to provide Frankfort Independent Schools and Franklin County Schools with $1.5 million to convert the three public high schools’ athletic fields from natural grass to synthetic turf.
During citizen comments, Ricky Crombie spoke on behalf of Capitol View Park. He said he would like the city to prioritize the installation of synthetic turf at Capitol View's soccer fields over the schools' fields.
“This upgrade will have the greatest return,” Crombie said.
Commissioner Katrisha Waldridge agreed with Crombie that Capitol View is in need of major upgrades but that project is going to take longer to complete than the schools' fields.
Waldridge said the schools already have the appropriate facilities and just need to upgrade the fields to synthetic turf, which could be completed in 12 weeks once the funds are secured.
At Capitol View, the entire park is in need of new seating, fields, lighting, concession stands, bathrooms, sewer upgrades and more, Waldridge said. She believes the city is capable of helping both the city and county schools upgrade their fields and upgrading Capitol View.
Commissioner John Sower, however, agreed with Crombie.
“The schools have their own tax base and collect taxpayer funds primarily through the property tax, but also utility and other taxes,” Sower said. “It seems to me most inappropriate to give city tax funds to county schools.”
Sower believes the city should focus its efforts on upgrading Capitol View.
Supporters of both endeavors say the upgrades at the park and at the schools would draw tournaments and other sporting events, giving a major boost to Frankfort’s economy.
On Monday, Sower mentioned that Elizabethtown upgraded its soccer park and in return, the city has seen nine new hotels and 20 new restaurants open to accommodate the increase of people coming into Elizabethtown for soccer.
On Jan. 23, Parker sent city commissioners an update on projects.
In the letter, he shared his opinion on what the city should do in relation to synthetic turf fields.
“It will be more evident after you see our projected numbers related to long term expense and revenue projections, but I am concerned about using a significant amount of our general fund dollars to make proposed soccer facility and turf investments at Capitol View Park,” Parker wrote.
In the letter, Parker said it would take $2.5 million to install two turf fields and to make the necessary upgrades at Capitol View.
Parker also said it would be in the city’s best interest to help upgrade the fields at the schools with a contribution of $500,000 to be split between the school systems instead of $1.5 million.
In return, Parker said the city should require the school systems to allow the city and community to market the fields for non-school events. He would also want the school systems to “aggressively go after school sanctioned tournaments and events” and “stripe the fields for multiple sports activities."
Parker said the city should also require the fields to be upgraded by August.
Another group requesting funding during Monday night’s meeting was the Franklin Center for Innovation. Director Jason Allen requested $60,000 to cover startup costs. If the city commission provides those funds, Allen said, the center can be up and running within a month.
Allen said the center has secured a building with the promise of free rent for three months. The center will serve as a place for people of all ages to learn woodworking, metalworking, how to operate 3D printers and more. The arts will also be a part of the center.
The center already has classes camps and events planned for this summer; all it needs is $60,000 to open, said Allen, noting that the center would be self-sustaining within two years.