Vice-Chair VanRuff shares thoughts on the refinancing of the bonds on the Legacy Site
In my role as the Executive Director of the Greater Maple Valley-Black Diamond Chamber, I served as the chamber's representative on the Citizen's Advisory Committee and Vice-Chair for the Legacy Site. From January 2001 until the CAC's final report to council in June of 2005, we were supported by the expertise of consultants, engineers, development professionals, regional leaders, and actively solictied input from the residents of Maple Valley.
The city council is currently considering refinancing options on The Site; one option under consideration is to remove the private business use restriction using taxable bonds; another other option is to retain the current tax-exempt bonding.
After investing so much time and energy in the process, I was compelled to speak at the Public Hearing on Monday February 9th. Here are my comments:
Mayor and Councilors,
As vice-chair of the CAC for the Legacy Site, I hope you will take time to consider some key elements of the report submitted in 2005. Although the report has literally been shelved since 2005, some of the information contained in the report still has value and I’d like to share some of my thoughts with you.
Members of the CAC spent almost 4 years and the City contracted for studies, consultants, and professional assessments of the property, in addition to senior staff time and energy. There was a considerable investment of time and taxpayer dollars that I believe should be thoroughly considered before any new decision is made regarding any change to the current bonding that might lead to the change of ownership and public uses of the property.
The Site was intended to be The City's "brand" and to be a gathering place that was to reflect the values and character of the community. The seat of government would be located there; a place where citizens would instinctively know to go to celebrate or grieve as a community. (I remember the consultant asking the question of where is the one place residents would instinctively know to go in Maple Valley to throw our hats in the air after hearing WWII ended.)
The regional leaders who lent their expertise and opinion during the process, continually reminded us that it is very rare that a city the size of Maple Valley owns such a significant piece of property. Development on the site was to set design and architectural standards, embracing the highest standard for sustainability; it was to model the way for all future development in Maple Valley.
I remember that one of the regional leaders invited to participate said the worst thing we could do is nothing. We were strongly encouraged to give public notice by way of a 'future use sign' proclaiming the vision for the property. Simple trails and access, inviting passive public use of the site, would garner support and build enthusiasm until the development and fulfillment of a shared community vision.
As I recall when the city made its move from Hagen Plaza, there was much discussion about the future location of city hall. At that time Council voted to build city hall on the Legacy Site within 10 years. I wonder if council is still committed to that vision and if there is the political will to make it a reality.
The CAC talked a lot about the economic opportunities presented by the synergy of Lake Wilderness Lodge, the Park, the golf course, and a small inn/hotel on the Site creating a destination as an urban conference center unlike any other in the region.
The CAC was guided through most of the process by City Manager, John Starbard who saw the vision being fulfilled through a design-build process. I believe the question of the feasibility of a design-build should be thoroughly explored in the current decision making process.
The CAC's charge was to deliver to council one preferred site plan; we did not. We were challenged by the topography of the site - it's not flat. We learned the topography would pose significant challenges for a developer so we put more value on the uses instead of an actual site plan.
I believe a number of factors played in to the plan being shelved - the CAC was commissioned before 9-11; the world changed and so did our priorities; the City acquired Lake Wilderness Park in January 2003; there was a change in City Managers; the economy took a downturn.
A lot has changed since 2005 but not the topography and The City's unique opportunity of ownership.
I've kept most every one of our meeting packets that capture the discussions, perspectives and debates from the members of the CAC, the regional leaders, experts, and the concerns and hopes of the public who participated in the process.
Maybe now is a good time to take some time to revisit the nearly four years of research, expert opinion, community investment, and explore the proposed uses contained in the CAC's report before any decision is made to refinance the bond under different terms and conditions.
Vice-Chair, The Legacy Site CAC