News from Patrick Flynn

Double fault

It’s been an interesting couple of months watching the controversy over funding for tennis facilities come to a head.  The aspect most curious to me stems from the root causes, and what appears to be an unfortunate decision to ask government to be the arbiter of a conflict between two private entities.  Please allow me to explain.

There is only one purveyor of indoor tennis courts in Anchorage, the Alaska Club and, in case you’re wondering, I’m not a member.  They have courts at two locations; their East club on Tudor road and their North club on Bragaw, the latter of which was the Anchorage Racquet Club during my younger years.  I don’t recall patronizing the establishment then, either.

According to the Alaska Club indoor tennis is a money loser for them – lots of space and not enough revenue to cover associated costs.  To address this they formulated a plan to close their North club and expand the East club, which would’ve resulted in fewer total available courts as the sale of the North club would include a clause forbidding the new owner to operate tennis courts in the facility.  This plan was, apparently, presented to the tennis community and that seems to be the point from which this imbroglio launched.

As a relative outsider it’s difficult to discern who “started” or perpetuated the lack of communication and divisiveness between the tennis community and the Alaska Club but it’s clear to me that both parties share portions of the blame.  Upset with the notion of fewer facilities and convinced interest in tennis is on the rise the Anchorage Tennis Association (ATA) decided to approach the legislature to seek funding for the now-infamous Northern Lights Recreation Center, an adjunct to Dempsey Anderson ice arena, with tennis and half court basketball facilities.

In their endeavors ATA found a willing advocate in Dan Sullivan, Anchorage’s mayor and a longtime tennis player.  I’ve heard any number of explanations for how this manifested itself but, to put it simply, it remains unclear whether the mayor advocated for this project as mayor or as a private citizen who plays tennis.  And that’s where matters grew more complicated.

Prior to his tenure as Anchorage’s mayor Dan Sullivan lobbied the Alaska Legislature in Juneau.  He seems to like spending time in Alaska’s capital city so, despite our paying for a very capable lobbying team, he’s there quite frequently during the legislative session.  It’s impossible to quantify whether that effort actually produces more state money for Anchorage.

In any event, funding for a new tennis facility found its way into the capital projects budget during the waning days of the 2013 legislative session.  One of my favorite columnists, Fairbanks’ Dermot Cole, has some interesting insight on the matter.  But, for whatever reason, House Finance members decided to use an Anchorage legislative request for Project 80’s maintenance funding as the avenue for funding the tennis facility.

That rankled many folks for a couple reasons.  The most obvious is that Project 80’s refers to facilities like the Sullivan Arena, Dempsey Anderson, the Performing Arts Center and the Loussac library – not new facilities.  Funding levels for those facilities was partial in some cases and non-existent in others.  Another is that the Municipality of Anchorage passes a legislative program prior to the legislative session and the new tennis facility was not included, or even requested by anyone.  Put another way, we (the Assembly) try to look after a myriad of community needs and it’s disconcerting when it appears that others insinuate we support something we haven’t.

Interesting aside here – there’s a “back-up” document dedicating $10.5 million to a tennis facility adjacent to Dempsey Anderson.  It’s not part of the statutory language in the capital budget and I doubt it carries any force of law.  The question I’ve asked is when it was promulgated.  The name on it is that of a Senate Finance committee staff member and the tennis court funding was added in the House, after the Senate had completed its work.  I’ve talked to a couple Representatives and they don’t recall seeing it prior to final passage of the capital budget.  My question remains to be answered.

This returns us to that lovely plot of land north of a rock and south of a hard place, a delightful place to call home, and circumstances have changed.  Where the Alaska Club North was once for sale at $3.5 million with the “non-compete” clause it’s now available to the city/ATA for somewhere around $6.5 million without that clause and with some upgrades (lighting, paint, ADA compliance, etc.).  I’m not sure if that’s a good deal or not, but it’s much cheaper than the $10 – $12 million projected for the new facility on Northern Lights.  And, goodness knows, there are any number of other Project 80’s needs that could be addressed with these funds.

Here’s my suggestion to those interested in this matter – figure it out.  I don’t appreciate being asked to arbitrate a fight between two private entities who haven’t effectively tried to address their differences.  If the ATA and the Alaska Club can come up with a reasonable plan I’m willing to consider it.  If this becomes a continuation of the zero-sum game we’ve seen to date I won’t be very sympathetic.



This contribution was made on Saturday, 12. October 2013 at 13:56 and was published under the category Fiscal matters. You can follow comments on this entry through the RSS-Feed.

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  1. Patrick
    Thanks for the explanation. I kept wondering why the Tennis Club didn’t jsut buy the Alaska Club to meet its needs – now I see. I think they should just work it out themselves – why do they need to involve the Assembly? I don’t think the $10. + should be spent on a tennis facility. It should be spent on maintenance of Project 80’s! Long overdue maintenance!

    Thanks for your blog!!

    Comment: Niki Burrows – 13. October 2013 @ 1:58 am

  2. My memory is better than yours – we did play at the Racquet Club a handful of times. But for the most part we played tennis on the outdoor courts near Ben Boeke.

    Comment: Lucy – 13. October 2013 @ 6:11 am

  3. This was helpful to read. I just want to be sure that the ice rinks get the repairs that they need and that can again become more financially accessible to more youngsters in the community. The more I look in to the needs of the ice facilities the more problems I find.

    Comment: Pat R – 13. October 2013 @ 12:43 pm

  4. This funding shenanagain sounds an awful lot like you know who’s pork funding
    request for a certain Coconut Road project in Florida. How so? We’ll,
    no one seems to be able to recall how it got there. Not even Don Young.
    Funding request that start in the dark need to remain there until some one
    sheds some light on who, what, where and when. Until then let the
    private entities resolve their differences and the Assembly send the money
    back to Juneau with Sullivan.

    Comment: Clinton Hodges – 13. October 2013 @ 4:21 pm

  5. The money could be better spent on needed repairs to Loussac Library.

    Comment: hfree – 16. October 2013 @ 10:16 pm

  6. I am glad that I visited your blog on this topic. More importantly, it confirmed what I initially thought before having the facts.

    Please support what current facilities we have before we create new ones. The hockey rinks are heavily used in this community and they need to be maintained.

    Comment: Melinda – 04. November 2013 @ 8:41 pm

  7. Patrick, ask the Alaska Club South about their tennis courts. They said they ALWAYS have courts available!! —>> (907) 344-6567

    You were once — or so we thought — a fan of hockey in Anchorage. Did you know that the Sullivan Arena is consistently voted as the worst arena in the WCHA Division 1 league (Anchorage Seawolves) and is always on the bottom of the list for the ECHL as well (Alaska Aces).

    Have you been to a game recently? The chairs are disgustingly filthy and tattered. The center ice-scoreboard has been in place for 30 years now and is severely antiquated. I thought a few years ago when a piece of it fell off and injured one of the Seawolves ankles during practice that the city would look into replacing it. I’ve lost count of how many years ago that was, but nothing ever became of it. When they pull that thing out of there, I doubt they’ll find anyone to donate it to!

    What about the floors of the Sullivan? They’re trashed. They did finally patch the shredded area in front of the burrito stand, but only because of people who wrote in to the GM constantly complaining about it. The interior walls of the arena are dingy, chipped and need to be repaired and painted.

    **** The glass around the ice hasn’t been replaced in years and is so dirty & etched up that it’s hard to look through. Go to a hockey game this weekend and just walk around. It would be good for residents to see an assembly member there for a change. The only one I ever see there is a former member.

    Walk around the neglected old arena and then re-think your previous article on this blog where you bragged about it being a state-of-the-art facility. Maybe 30 years ago!

    Comment: hockey player – 05. November 2013 @ 12:08 pm

  8. The Alaska Club North is trying to sell their tennis courts because they arelosing so much money. Stop by there sometime and look at how dead empty it is.

    This is a hockey town Assemblyman Flynn. It is not a tennis town!

    Comment: shae – 05. November 2013 @ 7:04 pm

  9. Good overview Patrick, thank you. As I understand it, the ATA was successful in convincing the legislature to fund the new rec center (tennis, basketball, volleyball, etc). These additional funds were included in the Project 80’s grant – they do not take funds from hockey or any other Project 80’s facility. In fact in that same grant there is already $21 to $24 million for hockey. The hockey rinks will get the money they need – and that’s a good thing. This new rec center will be a welcome addition; funded by the state and run at no cost to the city. If the Spenard rec center is any indicator, the facility will be well used, especially by those who spend an hour and a half on cold bleachers watching their kids hockey practice. Now they can skip over to this new facility and shoot some hoops or play a little tennis with one of the other parents. Now that’s something to look forward to on a cold winter night.

    Comment: Ed – 17. November 2013 @ 7:25 pm

  10. Good review of the events. Couple quick items:

    1. Without the North facility that will dramatically decrease the amount of courts and create a more rivalrous relationship between those trying to schedule courts during peak hours.
    2. A zero sum game I don’t believe is the correct definition. This is more a game of attrition.

    Should winter tennis exist is subjective however it does bear a cost and I assume will have maintenance costs that probably haven’t be planned/budgeted for. I would suggest the assembly stay out of this market due to the poor marginal benefit it brings for the overall Anchorage community and entering this market would create a negative influence on future investment (breaking up an infrastructure of winter tennis AK club established in its initial investment using government money).

    Comment: Joe W – 03. December 2013 @ 1:05 pm

  11. Assemblyman Flynn, can you please explain your vote in support of Dan Sullivan’s tennis boondoggle this evening???

    Man, talk about flipping around and ditching hockey. What’s the deal with you?

    And can you please do us a favor? The UAA (Anchorage) Seawolves are playing the UAF Alaska Nanooks (Fairbanks) this weekend at the Sullivan Arena. This will be the first time we’ve played one another in a league game in the history of either team ever and it should be exciting.

    Please come watch us, and when you do, walk around the arena as so many people have been asking you to do. Look at the floor, the walls, the scoreboard, the glass (you may not be able to see the game through it very well, but go anyway). You do realize that the 31 year old pac-man style scoreboard only works some of the time, I’m sure. If we get more than one penalty, good chance the second penalty will show up and even better chance they’ll have a problem getting it to light up on the board.

    We don’t pack them in like the standing room only Aces do, but this should be a pretty well attended game considering the rivalry. If you actually go and I sure hope you do, stop in here and tell us why you said on a prior post that Sullivan Arena, over 40 years old and falling apart at the seams, is “STATE OF THE ART”.

    I’m blown away that you of all people, the assembly member we respect the most, would vote with the likes of Jennifer “whatever the mayor wants” Johnston.

    Think about the communities actual needs and not what the 5 assembly members YOU voted with this evening are asking for!

    This is such a waste of time. You never respond to anyone from the hockey community on here and in fact, you rarely mention hockey on here anymore.

    Surprise the members of community and show up Friday or Saturday and look at the place again before you jump on Sullivan’s bandwagon. They are right on here. We do not need additional flipping tennis courts when our main hockey arena as well as the smaller ones are in dire need of repair.

    Drop the puck and even better, drop the lame tennis vote!

    Comment: Anchorage Goalie – 04. December 2013 @ 12:07 am

  12. correction- that should have read “over 30 years, not 40”

    By the time THIS assembly ever gets around to helping the Sullivan Arena get a facelift though, it likely will be 40 years.

    I hope you respond Assemblyman Flynn.

    Go to the Anchorage/Fairbanks game Friday or Saturday and look at what we play in.


    Comment: Anchorage Goalie – 04. December 2013 @ 12:11 am

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