Dardenne Prairie city officials are asking city voters to approve a half-cent city sales tax increase this November to pay a new community center and other outdoor park amenities on 10 acres that the city owns at the corner of Post Road and Hwy. N.
The sales tax, if approved on Nov. 7, is expected to generate about $571,000 annually.
In an email, Mayor David Zucker said the sales tax revenue would provide enough money to service $6 million in debt service and pay for additional operating costs from an expanded parks and recreation program. The additional sales tax may equate to $30 a year or $2.50 per month for someone spending $500 annually in the city, he said.
If approved, the city would start collecting the new revenue in April 2018. Zucker said the first phase of construction may be completed in 2019.
Building a community center represents the second choice among two options that city officials have been discussing in regard to expanding Dardenne Prairie’s parks. Initially, the city approached St. Charles Community College [SCC] about acquiring the former Barat Academy gymnasium and sports fields adjacent to the city’s Barathaven Park. The college acquired the academy campus, including its 69,000-square-foot main building and 28 acres that include a gymnasium, last December. City officials had sought the possibility of leasing or buying some space from the college, including the gymnasium and athletic fields. However, that possibility died when that the city was informed in July that the college wouldn’t sell, lease or share its property, Zucker said.
“I was salivating over the prospect of getting that. Frankly, my conversations with the college were very encouraging,” Zucker said in an August interview. “We had an acquisition price in mind which we were prepared to meet. Then somebody on the [college’s] Board of Trustees threw a wrench in it. The next thing I know I get a call saying sorry it won’t be sold, it won’t be leased and we don’t envision sharing it.”
According to a statement from Barbara Kavalier, president of the SCC, “St. Charles Community College is currently working on a business plan to establish a healthy living center concept at One Academy Place in Dardenne Prairie.” However, the college did not reply specifically regarding the city’s request.
“The college is exploring ways to provide educational opportunities that may involve health, sustainable culinary arts and physical wellness for our students and the community. As part of that plan, we will continue to work with area partners who may be interested in leasing the gym or fields when they are not in use by the college,” the statement said.
Still unclear is whether SCC will allow parking the public to park on their property near Barethaven to attend for youth soccer and cricket games. Zucker said he had not had a follow-up conversation on the parking issue, but noted that college officials had earlier said shared parking wasn’t an issue.
“But I can tell you, after that call that ‘we’re not selling, leasing or sharing,’ I’m unclear about what our public access is going to be. That’s a conversation that’s on my to-do list.”
The 10-acre plot next to city hall meets the needs of the city and residents who said they were interested in a central location for a park. Zucker said specific plans for the building are still under development and city officials have asked for public input. He noted that the city has developed “a fairly elaborate concept sketch” that doesn’t have any detail on what’s inside the center. He said the drawing was just a “footprint” for a location that can provide year-round activities that would appeal to youth through senior citizens. No large outdoor amenities are planned and amenities will be added as the city can afford them, he said.
“It will make property along Hwy. N, for years, more interesting,” Zucker said.