Letter: People Seem to Have No Voice in New Youth Center
To the Editor-
On Monday evening, the Stevens Point Common Council will consider a plan to construct a large building on city park property and connect it to the Parks and Recreation building on Michigan Ave and Sims Ave. The intention is to develop a teen center.
It is a worthy project that could serve Stevens Point’s young people for generations to come. I only wish city officials were developing it as an asset held in the public trust.
Instead, the Boys’ and Girls’ Club of Portage County would own and operate the youth center. The Club has a thirty-year lease on the land, for which it paid the city just one dollar – a part of the Mall Referendum’s deal-making and property-swapping. (That’s another story.)
Because the organization is philanthropic, the future of the teen center would depend on donors. As we saw during the recent downturn, charitable giving drops when the economy sours. Also, donations decline when Congress cuts or fails to renew tax breaks for giving.
In other words, relying on a charity to run a needed public service is risky business.
Of course, relying on politicians to keep a public entity afloat can be perilous, too. But we, the citizenry, do have a say in what happens when our government is the caretaker. We can contact our representatives, show up at meetings, and write letters to the editor. If they don’t respond, we can toss the bums out at the next election.
But when the private sector develops, owns, or operates a public property, decisions are made behind the board room’s closed doors. We, the people, have little or no voice.
It is certain the Common Council will support the Boys’ and Girls’ Club’s request for a conditional use permit to build a teen center. As I said, the land lease was signed, and everyone likes the idea of an after-school facility in this spot, next to P.J. Jacobs Junior High and within the Goerke Park sports complex.
However, we can still have a say. We can ask alderpersons to make changes to the center’s design. A smaller building with less pavement surrounding it would allow for more landscaping and for the preservation of existing green space where twenty-some mature trees soar – many are the noble white pine. It is park land, after all.
And, we can speak out on the larger issue: the commandeering of public property by private entities. If we do, our representatives may think twice the next time they are tempted to sell or give away what belongs to all of us.
Cathy Dugan, Stevens Point, WI