Baltimore Council President Stands Firm on Rec Center Demands
TRNN’s Stephen Janis talks to Council President Jack Young about why he’s holding legislation to authorize new spending on recreation centers
STEPHEN JANIS, PRODUCER, TRNN: Hello. My name is Stephen Janis, and I’m an investigative reporter for The Real News Network, reporting from Baltimore.
Recreation centers have been symbolic, if not an emotional topic in the city of Baltimore, a once-sprawling system that encompassed almost a hundred facilities across the city has shrunk to roughly forty, even as funding for agencies like the police department have grown disproportionately. It is a retreat some say is misguided and points to misguided priorities. The mayor says shuttering old rec centers and building new, more expansive facilities is the best way to make this system viable again, which is why she’s proposing selling four city parking garages and investing the money in new rec centers. The plan is meeting some resistance in the City Council, where the proposal needs legislative approval.
That brings us to our next guest. City Council President Jack Young has been a longtime proponent of investing in rec centers and recreational facilities in the city. He has had several showdowns with the mayor over the future of the city’s rec center system. Most recently, he said, he has concerns about her current plan.
Thank you for joining us, City Council President Jack Young. Maybe you could tell us just quickly, what are your problems with the mayor’s plan at this point?
CITY COUNCIL PRESIDENT JACK YOUNG: Well, I met with the mayor and told the mayor that I would like to see two super rec centers, one on the East side, and one on the West side. I don’t care where they build them, as long as it’s on the East and the West side. And I told her, I want the Boo Williams facility. I asked her to go look at those, and I’m quite sure she’ll see them, she’ll say hey, this is something that we can work with. It has eight basketball courts. They have tennis courts in there. It has room for hockey, track, all kinds of things in there. You can have banquets in there, you can have movies in there. This is a four thousand seat arena.
Not only that, the price tag at the time, in 2008 was $13.8 million. And we’re talking about raising $60 million off of selling four garages. I say we can do it. It probably won’t take $60 million. It might take fifteen. It might take twenty. And you still have $20 million left to do whatever you want to do with the rest of the rec centers. And I think this is something that me and the mayor could really work out, you know. But until we get, I get a deal on that, that we can look at that and explore that, I’m not amped toward the bill.
JANIS: So what is–did the mayor give you any specifics on her plan, or what she plans to do with the $60 million? Did she give you any details?
YOUNG: Well, she says she wanted to enhance the rec centers, and she wants to build more rec centers. I say hey, look, since we shrunk our rec centers down to about forty, or maybe thirty-something rec centers, let’s build these two super recs. Right?
And they’re revenue generators. We’re going to attract national tournaments from the AAU, Nike, all these different tournaments. And we can make money. I mean, it’s a small fee they pay, at the Boo Williams Center, for upkeep. So you know, we build these new buildings, and we don’t have a plan for upkeep. Those fees help pay for upkeep. And they’re minimal, they’re not large fees that people have to pay.
JANIS: Now, you’ve expressed some concerns about the parking garages. Selling the parking garages and losing revenue. Is that the only way to finance these? And what are your concerns about selling the parking garages, going forward?
YOUNG: I’m not for selling the garages anyway, because the garages are making money. And as Baltimore is beginning to evolve and grow, we’re going to need these parking garages. And they’re really not losing that kind of money. But the argument is they’re aging facilities and they need upgrades, and if we give them to a private investor, they could make those upgrades.
I’ve also told them that I’ve met with several companies who say we could do the lease back program, where we could still maintain control while they lease them from us, and they still belong ot the city of Baltimore. I’m really afraid–you know what happened in Chicago, where they privatized most of their garages, and they–chaos, you know. I don’t know what the outcome is of that, but I can tell you we don’t want to be in the situation that Chicago was in.
JANIS: So if the money in your plan doesn’t come from the garages, where do you see this money coming from at this point?
YOUNG: Well, I don’t see where the money’s going to come from. My, my, my whole agreement with the mayor is … I wouldn’t mind selling the garages if we can do two separate rec centers. One on the East, one on the West.
JANIS: What about these smaller recreational facilities, and what do you think the future is there? Setting aside the larger facilities and this plan, where do you see, what do you see happening in terms of the council? In terms of funding, and any growth there?
YOUNG: Well, you know, our rec centers need more programming, and they need more money for programming, and also they need more staff. So I’m envisioning, along with the mayor, that we can mutually work together to enhance the programming in our rec centers. I’ve talked to many citizens who send their kids to Baltimore County for the programs that they hve in their rec centers and things, and they pay. And they say that they don’t mind paying, because it’s something that their kids want.
Think if we offered that kind of stuff in our rec centers. Gymnastics, volleyball, track and field, those kind of things. Even though we have those, but I’m saying in a much larger scale, where people don’t have to leave outside of Baltimore City to go and get programs that we don’t have. So we can really program these big super rec centers–and I gave you a copy and a floor layout. We could do the same thing here in Baltimore City. And we could attract national basketball tournaments for Nike, probably Under Armour now, and the various organizations that’s looking for places where they can hold large tourmanents.
JANIS: I mean, part of the criticism has been that police has been funded well, tax breaks for developers are not hard to get. Why is it so hard to find money for rec centers?
YOUNG: Well, you know, infrastructure’s something that the city has to do anyway. And a lot of people think that when we give infrastructure money that it’s money actually going to the developer. The money is going to the infrastructure. We’re responsible for the road, the water pipes, and all of that infrastructure stuff. So that’s something we have to do.
Now, I think in terms of how we get money to build new rec centers if we don’t get the money from the garages is to get bond money from our state officials to help us, and then solicit help from all of these companies that get these city contracts to give back to our kids. And how to give back? Give back some, some money so we can help fund some of these programs, and build these rec centers that we need to build, for the same children that they claim are creating all of the havoc all over the city.
Let’s give them a place where they can feel safe, where they can talk about the programming that they want. Not the program that we want, but the programming that they want. They want things like, in this building that I saw. They want to be able to have a studio. Music, and all that kind of stuff. This is what the kids want. They want track and field. They want badminton. They want volleyball. They want swimming. They want to do track. They want to be well-rounded, just like the kids in Baltimore County, and kids around the country.
JANIS: So going forward, I mean, you pretty much told the mayor that you were not going to introduce this bill into the council until you have a confirmation that these rec centers are built–
YOUNG: It’s already in the council.
JANIS: Okay. But what have, so what have you told her specifically about the future of the legislation?
YOUNG: Well, I don’t have to tell them anything. They know unless we come up with an agreement, the bill is not going to be heard.
JANIS: So there will be no hearing on this bill unless you come to an agreement on this, sort of, super recs.
YOUNG. Absolutely. Absolutely.
JANIS: You’re sticking to that.
YOUNG: I’m sticking to that.
JANIS: Okay. Well, thank you, Council President Jack Young, for talking rec centers, we will probably have you back soon.
YOUNG: Thank you for having me here. Anytime you want to talk about rec centers, that’s my bloodline, I’m ready to talk.
JANIS: And my name is Stephen Janis, I’m an investigative reporter for The Real News Network, reporting from Baltimore. Thank you.
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