Home News Local News Public voices ideas on future of Yucca Center property

Public voices ideas on future of Yucca Center property

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Virginia Garcia, in the orange shirt, shares her ideas Tuesday evening about what could be done with city property after the Yucca Center is demolished. The city held a public forum to hear from community members. Planning Manager Bill Morris stands in front of the group, which includes Briana Calciano, in front on left, a student at Sydney Gutierrez Middle School who talked about creating a community garden. (Alison Penn Photo)

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About 30 community members at a public forum Tuesday evening at the Central Fire Station suggested everything from athletic fields to community gardens to affordable housing as possible uses for the property now occupied by the historic Yucca Recreation Center, which is to be demolished.

The city organized the public forum to discuss future uses for the 2.4-acre property at 500 S. Richardson Ave. after the 106-year-old building is torn down.

Planning Manager Bill Morris and City Manager Joe Neeb primarily led the meeting.

“The city doesn’t get a good reputation for reaching out and talking with everybody,” Neeb said. “That’s why we are here is really to start those conversations and have those conversations as early and as often as I can get you guys out.”

Rejected bid discussed

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Randall Kennedy and other people in attendance asked why the bid from Complete Rehabilitation Services Inc. was not accepted and why the city wanted to pay to demolish the center instead.

“One thing people don’t realize, they haven’t been inside the building recently,” City Engineer Louis Najar said. “If you go in there, all the fond memories that you have — your heart is going to break. As an engineer or developer, it is cheaper to tear down and build anew. You’ve got to go in there. It’s ugly — and ugly is being nice.”

Neeb said the city wanted a plan on how the building would be brought back up to code and benefit the community, which is part of the reason the bid was denied.

Community members present ideas

Briana Calciano, 14, an eighth-grader at Sidney Gutierrez Middle School, said her teacher told her about the forum, which influenced her decision to attend.

Calciano read a letter she had written to the city asking for a community garden. Calciano said she loves gardening and that a garden would encourage the community to unplug from their screens and connect with nature and each other. The produce at the garden could be donated to a food pantry for lower-income families, she said.

Other suggestions included a neighborhood park, a dog park, a splash pad, an alien-themed park, athletic practice fields, affordable housing, a region-specific fish aquarium and a skating rink.

Todd DeKay brought his son, Zachary, to the meeting and suggested a park with an alien-crash theme, including a sideways jungle gym. DeKay said recreation should be a major part of repurposing the land.

“We also have to consider that all of these ideas are paid for by tax money,” Randall Kennedy said, who suggested along with some others that future ideas involve public-private funding.

Kennedy said any idea paid for with taxes could end up like Spring River Park Zoo, costing the city money, and suggested the city should think about replacing Yucca with a profit-generating amenity.

“None of these things are making a profit,” Kennedy said. “They are just making people happy.”

William Roblas said he owns a building across from Yucca and would like to see the city property developed as a mixed-use park. Roblas added that a facility to host after-school programs or public meetings could be another use.

Jimmy Masters with the Health Department said he liked the community garden idea and a park with a walking trail around it, similar to Altrusa Park.

“I go back to what is best for that neighborhood as well,” Masters said. “It’s all about improvement.”

Morris said creating a new park or another amenity could influence people to relocate to that area of town.

Some community members asked about keeping the center’s elements such as its parking lot, basketball courts, and the playground, which the city staff recognized as an option.

Masters asked if there had been any door-to-door assessments or surveys in the surrounding neighborhood of the Yucca. Morris replied that the city had placed some surveys on windshields.

Virginia Garcia said that area has been left without recreation for two years.

“How long into the future do we have to go to see this come to fruition?” Garcia asked.

After the meeting, she suggested the Yucca name should be kept to preserve its history.

Affordable housing

Earlier in the meeting, Neeb said the city found comments on social media to turn the Yucca into affordable housing, causing Mayor Dennis Kintigh to ask if the idea was viable.

Morris said the Yucca is zoned for residential or heavy commercial uses.

He also said that a two-year-old study showed the city has a huge need for affordable housing due to low incomes, stagnant wages and aging of current housing. The study showed the city had about 18,000 units of affordable housing, but an estimated 10,000 to 11,000 units were considered substandard.

Morris clarified this housing was not Section 8 housing, but rather affordable options for teachers, nurses, firemen, policemen and others with a median income.

To create affordable housing, the city could donate the land or sell to a developer. Morris said affordable housing has small profit margins, which means, to make a profit, it has to be high-density housing, such as townhouses or apartments that could be bought or rented.

Next step

“It’s their future,” Morris said gesturing to the youth who attended the forum as the evening drew to a close.

Neeb said good maintenance of parks and high-quality service is what the city deserves.

He added that community members can attend the Parks and Recreation Committee and speak at other city meetings if they have more to discuss about the property. Another forum dedicated to the Yucca could happen if the community asks for it and the city is aware of a need.

For future discussion, Neeb said, people should think about whether they would want a park for the neighborhood or a development such as a skate park or a splash pad with a more regional appeal.

City reporter Alison Penn can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 205, or at reporter04@rdrnews.com.