Merriam leaders prepare for final vote on community center design

A conceptual rendering of Merriam’s proposed community and aquatic center.

Merriam is one week away from voting on the final stages of design for the new community center, and city leaders have urged each other to rally in support.

The council will vote on the project design, rezoning and preliminary development plan, and tax increment financing for the parking garage during its Sept. 24 meeting after a public hearing. Chris Engel, city administrator, told councilmembers that the agenda will be cleared of any other new business to make time for discussion.

“This is really the meat and potatoes,” Engel said at the Monday work session.

Mayor Ken Sissom encouraged members of the council to get behind the proposal that will come up for a vote next week. File photo.

The council will first vote on the project design for the new community center. Mayor Ken Sissom said this first vote on the project design is crucial to moving the project forward, with or without TIF funding for the parking garage. He encouraged the council to be “a part of the democratic process and move forward in support.”

Council votes on the project design, rezoning and preliminary development plan require a simple majority to pass. The vote for the use of TIF funding requires a supermajority, or at least two-thirds of council approval.

Councilmember Bob Pape said he hopes that the council can collectively get on board with the project once they cast their votes.

“My concern is about the two-thirds majority; if that does not occur for some reason, when we get down to that and we can’t do anything with that, that could screw up the whole ball of works,” Pape said of the vote on TIF funding.

Engel said the council will first need to approve the project design, rezoning and preliminary development plan before voting on TIF. Nonetheless, if the council approves the design, rezoning and preliminary development plan, the project can still move forward, Engel added. The city would simply lack the dedicated TIF funding for the parking garage.

If the council rejects the TIF plan, it could impact the city’s ability to accept the first bid package from McCarthy Building Companies, the developer on the project. Meredith Hauck, assistant city administrator, said costs dedicated to developing the parking garage are incorporated in that first bid package.

Mayor Ken Sissom said the city could still move forward on the project without plans for a parking garage. However, it would require redesign.

“By doing that, of course, it would require a redesign of the layout, and we end up with less money to spend on the community center and the pool because we’d have to spend more money on the grounds,” Sissom told the council. “So if you want to vote against the TIF project because you think it would somehow stop the project, it’s not. It’s just going to make it smaller, and it’s going to make the green space we have go away…It doesn’t stop the community center being built,” he said.

Councilmember Robert Weems asked about the Merriam Concerned Citizens’ efforts to start petitions that “stop” the community center process.

“If they actually convince us to put a hold on this, we’ve got to make sure we’ve got the right signatures and all that, so what kind of process are we looking at for that?” Weems asked.

Engel said the council could instead table votes on the action items.

“If we’re not going to go forward with the series of approvals on anything, we would hope to know at (the beginning),” Engel said. “We can strategically pause this, but there will be repercussions to pausing.”

If the city delays, the council could conduct special meetings to keep on schedule, Engel added.