GOSHEN — When it comes to the Goshen Community Center, the theme seems to be, “It wasn’t the right time.”
Goshen Community Center Inc., the committee behind the project, announced Sunday it was pulling support for a referendum vote to issue bonds for the project.
In a press release from the committee, project director Bruce Stahly noted that the endowment required to help cover the center’s inevitable operating losses over the first several years could no longer be guaranteed.
“We wanted to make sure the business plan would be successful,” Stahly added Tuesday, stating that the endowment was a vital part of that plan. He stated, however, that a significant donor to the endowment recently pulled support, leaving the project in serious question.
Stahly said he hadn’t heard why the donor decided to back away from the project’s endowment, but the weakening of the endowment left Goshen Community Center Inc. with little choice but to shut down the project for the time being.
Councilwoman Dixie Robinson, who had voted in opposition of allowing the referendum in January, said she believed the Community Center group had done the right thing.
“I think there was much more flak that was against it than they expected,” she said. “I think that now was just the wrong time.”
Robinson cited the city’s unemployment rate and uninhabited homes as signs that the community was not ready to take on the added burden the center would put on taxpayers.
“I think (Goshen Community Center Inc.) thought that they were doing the right thing for Goshen and everything, so I have a lot of respect for them,” she added. “And I have a lot of respect for them, that they pulled it off the table.”
Stahly expressed the committee knew all along the push for a community center would prove difficult. “Especially in this day and age, when you talk about raising taxes, you’ll be facing an uphill climb,” he said.
Despite expectations that the city and school referendums would encounter opposition, Stahly added that members of the Goshen Community Center Inc. were surprised that the issue became “so politicized.”
Robinson also mentioned the oft-stated concern for other fitness businesses in the region that had put private money into their businesses and some who felt the community center would end up being a competitor.
Mayor Allan Kauffman said he was disappointed to hear the project would no longer be pursued, stating that he supported it.
“I understand why they pulled it,” he said. “It’s really bad timing with the discussions about curtailing busing kids to school and then they’d have to bus them to the community center. That wasn’t an easy conversation there.”
Kauffman added that the longer the process was drawn out, the more difficult the referendum seemed to become. “I think a community center would be a good thing for Goshen and for quality-of-place, but the timing just isn’t ideal,” he said.
As for whether the group will bring the plan back to the community, Stahly couldn’t say. “We’re not at all committed to that. We don’t know,” he said.
Pulling support for the center means the committee’s desired location, the former Street Department site along the Millrace, remains in the possession of the city’s Redevelopment Commission.
When Goshen Community Center Inc. first made its plans available to the public, the Street Department site was, in their opinion, the best available location for the center.
It provided a central location to schools, IU Health Goshen Hospital and other potential significant users, as well as access for pedestrians and cyclists. A $300,000 access bridge for vehicles was needed, however, which raised some community concern over choosing that particular site.
After delaying the referendum vote from May to November, the committee reopened the search for a site, as a way to gauge public feelings and potentially lower the cost of the project.
Several other locations were considered at public forums intended to establish criteria from residents’ input to help select the site for the center. The Millrace site remained in the running through the public meetings, but the project was shut down before a final choice could be made.
Mark Brinson, director of the city’s community development department, noted that the site is now available for other types of development.
A previous study done in conjunction with the River Race Advisory Committee set aside that particular location for public use, meaning the site could be developed in a number of ways.
Brinson explained the community center would have been a more intense development of the land, but other ideas have been discussed, including natural areas, parks, making the area available for recreational activities, gardens or even an outdoor amphitheater.
“We really have not pursued a lot of other options,” he added, because of the commitment the Redevelopment Commission made to donate the site for the community center if the referendums would have passed.
Brinson said the next committee meeting would surely lead to discussion about the recent development and would request further direction from the Redevelopment Commission.