Holler: Mammoth can have it all

Mammoth’s Town Manager says top recreation priorities can be achieved sooner rather than later

When I heard Town Manager Dan Holler say a few weeks ago that Mammoth might not have to choose between three of its top recreation priorities (a recreation center, a outdoor event venue, and an indoor performing art center)—and build them all within the next three to five years—it seemed too good to be true.

Apparently, it isn’t, according to Holler.

And it’s not rocket science, either.

I sat down with him earlier this week to better understand what it would take.

Q: Given that Mammoth is still recovering from a $30 million lawsuit and a recession, what makes you think we can have all three of the top recreation priority facilities in such a short time?
Holler: The short answer is Measure U and Measure R together generate about $1.8 million (average) a year in restricted revenue. In this case, the revenue is restricted by the voters to go toward recreation, trails, arts and culture, etc., as long as certain criteria are met.

Q: Leaving aside the ongoing discussion over the issues of what criteria can be used, let’s assume the $1.8 million a year. How can that get us all three priorities—and in five years or less?
Holler: It all comes back to the priorities of the community. If these are the three highest priorities, we can make it happen. I believe—given my understanding of all the planning the Town has done, after a brief review of all the documents, the studies, and consultants, after all the meetings that the Town has have held over the past decade—that these are the three highest priorities. Do we have the resources to do this in three to five years? I believe the answer is yes. Can we pay for their ongoing maintenance? Yes. That’s what I want to get across.
The question to the community and to the Town is at what point do you pull the trigger on any one project and get it done? People are so used to being “in the churn” of government. I want to get something on the ground, get it done.
One or two successes will re-energize the town. It will make us say, “Look at who we are. Look at what we can do.” I believe it will build synergy. I think the symbiotic relationships will develop, and that people will come and use the facilities. I think people will bike and hike and go to these events and it will help put us on the map, like Sand Harbor does for Tahoe or Red Rocks.

Q: Tell us how this will work, given the town’s financial situation.
Holler: Take the $1.8 million and take, at least for the next three years, $300,000 out of that for trails, which is already committed. That leaves about $1.5 million a year available. Multiply that by 10 years. That’s $15 million.
Holler: I believe all three of the priorities could be built for about $10 million, our capital costs only. And we don’t have to wait until we have accumulated that; we can build it sooner by financing it.
While we don’t have the best credit rating (due to the $29.5 million judgment against the Town after it lost in court to Mammoth Lakes Land Acquisition several years ago) it has gone from a “C” rating to a “BB-” rating. That is an improvement. We also have this dedicated revenue source, and financers know that a dedicated revenue source is strong security for financing. These dedicated, restricted revenue sources are a big plus for us to move priority projects forward. There would still be funds to help with trails and current facilities, although at a lower funding level.

Q: When do you think these facilities could they be built by?
Holler: For the recreation center, I am thinking of a 16,000-square-foot gym, with a full-sized gym floor, an elevated running track, a small weight room, a child play area, a 2,000-square-foot classroom, etc. That would be the first phase and could be under construction within three years. Over time, we could add more phases, such as a pool, added classroom space, or other outdoor facilities/amenities.
I’m thinking of about an outdoor events venue on current, town-owned property (such as Mammoth Creek Park, or the “bell” shaped parcel) that would include a stage, restrooms, utilities, and parking, for a cost of about $2-$3 million. That could be built within about two years, with some phasing of improvements. The other option is to acquire property for this purpose, which would take a little longer to develop.
We are thinking of a 10,000-12,000 square-foot performing arts center built under a partnership with the Mammoth Lakes Foundation and Cerro Coso College (and maybe others) as long as the facility meets the education-related facility requirements. This could possibly be done at the South Gateway area (Cerro Coso Community College area) where we wouldn’t have to purchase property. The total cost would be about $4.5 million, but we (the Town) would invest a one-time fund of $400,000 for added amenities in the facility, then commit, once it’s built to provide operation support at about $250,000 a year. I think it could be under construction within two years.

Q: This all sounds good, but what about those maintenance costs that would go on into perpetuity. How will the town manage those?
Holler: I am assuming we will need to take on about $600,000 to $650,000 a year in ongoing operational and maintenance costs for all three of these. These are not-for-profit facilities. They provide amenities and programs for locals and visitors. They are not designed for complete cost recovery. These estimates are based on a 50 percent operating cost recovery (i.e. total operational cost would be about $1.2 million).
A longer term goal is not to rely solely on Measure R & U funds as we look to other outside funding sources, (i.e. grants, donations, sponsors etc.).

Editor’s note: The following summary depicts Mammoth Lakes’ Town Manager Dan Holler’s predictions and estimates regarding future facilities and have not been officially voted on.

Recreation center
Source of revenue: Measure R, annual revenue $950,000 to $1 million
Cost: About $375 a square foot, built in 15 percent contingency, final cost of about $7 million if financed over 20 years at about $610,000 a year
Annual operations cost: $250,000 per year
When: Construction most likely two to three years out to allow time to set aside funds to meet cost estimates, planning work, etc. Assumes no grants or other funding.

Outdoor events center
Source of revenue: Measure U, Annual revenue $800,000 to $850,000
Cost: $2 to $3 million, financed over 10 years, includes stage, restroom, utilities, parking and assumes use of current town owned property
Annual debt: $260,000 per year
Operations: $100,000 per year
When: Construction most likely two years if using Town-owned land, longer if seeking new property

Performing arts center
Source of revenue: Measure U, Partner with Mammoth Lakes Foundation
Cost: Invest one-time funds of $400,000
Operations: $250,000
Annual commitment of debt and operations: $610,000
When: Two years