It started life as an off-hand offer of $30,000, and has since captivated a community, spreading and growing like a vine into a crucial community project now entangled into issues far beyond its modest boundaries.
It was last year that then Port Blakely chief Alan Boeker said his company would be interested in paying for a mountain bike park of some description in the Issaquah Highlands. It was an offering, a sweetner, in controversial negotiations Boeker was involved in to bring a gas station to the Highlands. The $30,000 was little more than a bar napkin number he plucked out of the air. But it stuck.
And while the gas station has been put on the shelf for the time being, the mountain bike skills park idea has very much taken root, working its way onto the bargaining table between the City of Issaquah and Port Blakely over the much-anticipated Park Pointe Transfer of Development Rights (TDR) deal.
Despite the impressive support of the local mountain biking community, it appears the mountain bike skills park idea may have grown too big for its boots. At a meeting of the Major Development and Growth Committee (MDGC) on Monday night, committee members found themselves looking at a $150,000 plan that far exceeded the city’s own commitment and that of Port Blakely.
There is no doubting it would be a great asset – there is precious little for 10 to 15-year-olds to do in the Highlands once they outgrow the climbing wall and frisbee in the park with mom. But as MDGC member and city councilor Fred Butler pointed out, the blueprints need to match the budget.
“If we have $30,000 we should have a $30,000 plan,” he said. “We shouldn’t be talking about $150,000.”
The plan that Major Development Team lead Keith Niven put together in conjunction with the mountain bike community, particularly Highlands resident Tony Cowan, includes modest jumps and berms, a car park with 40 spaces, a stormwater detention and settling pond, a shelter and drinking fountain, and a four foot fence to keep mountain bike activities in the mountain bike park. The park would also connect with local and regional trails, including one leading to the much larger Duthie Hill Mountain Bike Park a few miles to the northeast.
As Niven pointed out, $30,000 would not pay for any of the park’s physical amenities, only the salary of a project coordinator. But the mountain bike community has proven they can do much with little – the construction at Duthie Hill was made possible by hundreds of thousands of dollars in donated labor and materials, in addition to about $200,000 in folding money from King County. The skills park in the Highlands would be akin to a golf driving range in comparison to Duthie’s Pebble Beach.
Cowan told the MDGC he had received a partial commitment from King County they would add $20,000 to Port Blakely’s $30,000.
“I don’t want to build fake expectations,” Butler said. “We want to go into this knowing the parameters.”
One problem is that these parameters are still undefined, and rest largely with how the TDR deal works out. Although Kirk has committed the $30,000 to a mountain bike facility regardless of what happens with the TDR, it is details of the land swap, particularly King County’s input, that will decide crucial elements such as who might pay for a parking lot that would also serve regional trails and parks operated by the county.
Recognizing the task that Niven has ahead of him of putting together a workable TDR deal before a March 2011 deadline, the MDGC suggested removing any intricate details about a mountain bike facility from the TDR deal, and leaving in its place just Port Blakely’s financial commitment. There is a sense it would be pointless to jeopardize a multi-million dollar deal involving almost 200 acres, over minutiae. Kirk seemed to agree, stating Port Blakely was not interested in being involved in planning the park.
“We have no control over the scope,” he said. “Whatever you decide to do, we’re willing to contribute $30,000.”
Worth mentioning was the presence of half a dozen mountain bikers at the meeting, demonstrating the level of support for the project in the community.
Chad Black, a resident of Klahanie and a member of the Evergreen Mountain Bike Alliance team that helped build the Duthie Hill mountain bike park, said a facility in the Highlands would give young people a recreational option they desperately needed. Black said during the construction at Duthie Hill, he witnessed first hand the energy of young riders to create somewhere they could ride, be with friends, and stay active.
“You can’t get kids to take out the garbage, but you can get them to pick up a shovel and held build a bike park,” he said.
Jason Goff, store manager of Veloce Velo bike shop in Issaquah, echoed the sentiments of councilors Tola Marts and John Traeger that a strong mountain biking culture would be good for business in the city.
But even the man who has driven the idea of a park from the very beginning, Tony Cowan, recognized there was a need to make sure the vision matched the capacity.
“What we have here is a much bigger undertaking than what I envisioned,” he said. As some relief to questions about whether the park would attract more cars, given the parking issues emerging at Duthie Hill, to an area already aware of looming congestion problems, Cowan said he expected the majority of users would be children and teenagers from the Highlands.
“I think Duthie Hill and the skills park would compliment each other, but I don’t think the same people would use both,” he said. “We are talking about young kids, older people too, who are looking for an introduction to mountain biking, who don’t want to risk life and limb. I see them pedaling over from their homes in the neighborhood.”
Residents wanting to hear more about the mountain bike skills park, and the broader TDR, should attend the open house at Blakely Hall Aug. 4, from 6:30 p.m.