By DANIEL SUDDEATH
NEW ALBANY — Mayor Jeff Gahan’s vision of an aquatic center and multiuse sports complex are a major step closer to becoming reality, as the New Albany City Council approved Thursday a lease agreement that will allow a bond of up to $19.6 million to be issued.
The resolution was approved 6-3, and it consented the New Albany Redevelopment Authority to fund the recreational projects with tax-increment financing revenue and lease the facilities to the New Albany Redevelopment Commission.
Indiana statutes permit the commission to cast the decisive vote on the bond since it is the body charged with overseeing TIF districts. The redevelopment commission will hold a public hearing at 2:30 p.m. on March 12 and then vote on the adoption of the lease resolution and the purchase of the TIF bond.
Borrowing the money via the bond is likely to be approved, as the commission already unanimously OK’d the lease agreement with the redevelopment authority.
If approved by the commission, the bond would fund an estimated $8 to $9 million aquatic center at the former Camille Wright pool site. It would also be used to pay for the construction of a multiuse sports complex at the former Hoosier Panel property off Silver Street and the addition of soccer fields in Binford Park.
Though the bond could be as much as $19.6 million, administration officials have said the amount will likely be between $16 million and $17 million.
Council members Kevin Zurschmiede, Diane McCartin-Benedetti and Shirley Baird voted against the resolution, citing concerns with the amount of money being borrowed, the property tax backup for the bond and the timing of the measure.
The council held a lone work session on the bond Tuesday.
“I just don’t see why we need to do all of this at one time,” Baird said.
The city could use available TIF revenue to improve parks gradually instead of borrowing money and increasing New Albany’s debt, she continued.
The TIF bond will be backed by property taxes, which administration-hired financial advisers said will get the city a better deal in terms of an interest rate.
In addition to stating his worries about how the debt could affect future projects, Zurschmiede said backing the bond up with property taxes is a risk.
“This is about whether this council wants to put the citizens of New Albany’s property taxes on the line,” he said.
The bond agreement that was approved by the city council to fund the construction of the Floyd County branch of the YMCA of Southern Indiana also included a property tax backup.
Councilman Scott Blair amended the resolution so that the projects will have to be approved by the council before construction can begin. He said the city has about a $3 million unencumbered TIF cash flow which wouldn’t be greatly hampered by $1.2 million payments on the bond.
“I think the financing is very solid and very secure,” he said.
David Duggins, economic development and redevelopment director for the city, added that only five of New Albany’s seven TIF districts will be tapped for the bond payments.
Gahan addressed the council prior to the vote and said the recreational amenities proposed should already be in place in New Albany.
“These efforts are all about making the City of New Albany competitive,” he said.
If approved by the redevelopment commission, the bond note is for 21 years, and total expenses including interest would be $24.4 million if the maximum amount is borrowed.
Gahan said the administration will hold several public meetings about the projects before construction begins.
The administration announced a change in the plans for the Silver Street project this week after New Albany Little League officials confirmed the organization plans to build a new facility off Charlestown Road near the Interstate 265 interchange.
The city’s project was initially to focus on baseball and softball fields, but now could include an indoor facility, two fields that could be used for a variety of sports and a walking path.
Gahan said the project would help revitalize the surrounding neighborhoods.
Beyond the YMCA, Interim New Albany Parks Director Kathy Wilkerson said the city hasn’t pushed for such major upgrades to its recreational offerings in her 41-year career.
The projects are important because they can improve the lives of New Albany’s youth, she said, as Wilkerson added not all families can afford Y memberships or one-day passes.
“There’s many teens that are hanging out in the wrong places because there’s nowhere to hang out,” she said.
EDIT bond for paving stalled
The council didn’t vote on a $5.7 million bond to fund a mass paving campaign.
Blair requested the council put the administration’s request in committee to determine if existing funds can be used for paving efforts instead of taking on more debt.
The bond was to be paid back with Economic Development Income Tax funds. Blair said the city could easily commit $2 million in EDIT revenue toward paving this year to avoid borrowing money.
The committee is expected to report back to the council in time for the issue to be revisited during the body’s March 21 meeting.