Tennis, anyone?

There is something disconcerting about Mayor Dan Sullivan and the Alaska Tennis Association joining to get $7 million from the Alaska Legislature to build six indoor tennis courts adjacent to the Dempsey-Anderson Ice Arena off Northern Lights Boulevard.

There, of course, is the concern that the facility will compete with private interests and worries that the money – part of larger package in the state capital budget earmarked, “Project 80s Deferred and Critical Maintenance” – could have been used better elsewhere for aging facilities such as Dempsey-Anderson, the Sullivan Arena or the Ben Boeke Ice Arena.

The Legislature’s budget, after all, listed the expenditure as “Dempsey Anderson Ice Arena and Addition of Indoor Multi-Use Court Facilities (tennis, basketball, volleyball, etc.)” There is a certain aura of deception attached to all this.

The project is expected to have a price tag of about $8.5 millon, with $7.2 million from the state and $1.3 million in previously authorized city bond funds. (Why that money was not used to reduce city debt is anybody’s guess.) The association, the Anchorage Daily News reports, also plans to raise privately a $1.5 million maintenance budget. The Turnagain Community Council passed a resolution earlier this year giving tenative support, the newspaper said.

It should be noted the project seems to have sprung up out of the blue. Turnagain residents – who certainly did not seek the project – are left to wonder about traffic and parking problems. The rest of us should be wondering whether the facility will pay for itself or cost the city and require a subsidy. We also should be asking whether our taxes will increase and whether a tennis facility is the best use of the money in a city with chronic money problems.

Perhaps the big question is this: Why did the Sullivan administration not ask city residents whether they even want a new, indoor tennis court?

It would be better, in our view, to have a full and transparent public discussion, followed by the Assembly putting on the ballot a bond request for the $7 million. After all, the citywide facility should get more than simply Turnagain Community Council approval. Voters across the city in a bond election would get to have their say and the $7 million line item in state funds could be used for its previously stated purpose.

That would seem to us the best way to proceed. Unfortunately, the way this has been handled leaves more than a little to be desired.

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