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Tennis court question delays Assembly action

By Matthew F. Smith 11:26 AM November 6, 2013

Public comment on $10.5 million tennis facility earmark goes late into the night

ANCHORAGE—To build or not to build? That was the question before the Anchorage Assembly Tuesday night: Would it be nobler to use $10.5 million in state funds on new indoor tennis courts, or take arms against the slings and arrows of time and improve existing facilities?

The municipality received $37 million from the Alaska State Legislature for “Project 80s” in May; money meant to go toward improving sports facilities across town. Having already appropriated $26.5 million, Tuesday the Assembly was to decide where to spend the remaining money: on a new tennis facility or on further improvements.

A decision was never made, as public testimony—mostly, but far from unanimously, in favor of the tennis courts—continued past 10:30 p.m.

After first hearing public comment on a range of topics, from the long-debated taxicab overhaul to items Anchorage residents want the municipality to prioritize in Juneau, the question of the tennis court cash came up late in the evening.

Assembly member Bill Starr was ready with a resolution putting the new tennis courts on ice, and instead put the $10.5 million toward improvements at existing facilities.

“I wish it wasn’t a battle between tennis and hockey, but I think the idea is, we have to first take care of what we own … before we can move on to the next topic of something new,” he said. “New is nice to talk about and great to use, but I can’t afford the situation where our older buildings are so far gone that we can’t repair them.”

Starr’s resolution didn’t keep supporters from speaking out. Wearing stickers that read “Yes on Tennis,” dozens were able to speak before the Assembly, but many dozens more were left waiting.

Many supporters were members of the Alaska Tennis Association (ATA), which, along with Mayor Dan Sullivan, lobbied lawmakers in Juneau for the money for a new facility. Former ATA president and current board member Matt Hemry said the partnership the ATA developed to ask the Legislature for money directly, rather than borrow taxpayer money from the municipality, serves as “a model for how projects like this should be funded.”

“The intent of the Legislature is clear, that [a tennis facility] is what [the money] is to be used for,” Hemry said. “The Assembly has some leeway in approving that, but the way we view it is, we went through the work, we put together this proposal, this package, and the legislative intent was clear.”

Hemry said private donations and support from the national U.S. Tennis Association would sustain the facility down the road; a contention the president of the Anchorage Chamber of Commerce disputes.Hemry said the $10.5 million for the facility doesn’t mean other programs are going unfunded.

“This is not money that is being directed away from other previous approved projects,” he said. “The lion’s share of this Project 80s money is still going to other projects such as hockey, and that’s not to pit tennis versus hockey and other needs. There’s enough for everybody here.”

By 10:30 pm, the Assembly had voted to continue taking public testimony. If the tennis court question is not resolved, they’ll take it up at their next meeting on Tuesday, November 19th.

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