RARA finds a new home

The proposed new RARA headquarters.

After a decade of dreaming, looking and saving, the Rochester Avon Recreation Authority has found a new place to call home–just down the street from its current address.

A vacant, 34,000-square-foot office/warehouse on East Second in Rochester is expected to become RARA’s new headquarters. The expenditure has received the necessary approval of both the Rochester and Rochester Hills city councils but is subject to a 30-day due-diligence period. The price, $1.4 million, will be paid for with $500,000 from RARA’s reserves and a 10-year land contract.

The building is located in an industrial zone near downtown Rochester, the Clinton River, the trail and Elizabeth Park. The building has recently renovated offices, a conference room and some restrooms. RARA plans to spend an additional $625,000 to convert the space to its use over the summer, including basketball courts, dance studios, classrooms, preschool rooms and a multi-purpose room.

“After looking at multiple properties over the years, the RARA board feels the time is now,” said Executive Director Ronald Jewell. The new building is expected to trim RARA’s annual operating costs a bit because it will not be subject to property taxes. RARA currently rents space elsewhere on Second Street, spending $130,000 annually on rent and property taxes.

“This venue is an opportunity for RARA to invest in its future,” Jewell said. The new building is three-and-a-half times larger than the facility RARA has been renting for the last 20 years.

RARA provides recreational opportunities for Rochester and Rochester Hills residents, including children, adults and young adults with special needs. It is governed by a board consisting of members appointed by the two cities and the Rochester and Avondale school districts. Revenue comes from tax dollars and program fees.

Until now, RARA has never owned real estate. Facilities such as athletic fields and gymnasiums are rented from the cities and school districts.

Rochester Mayor Stuart Bikson called the move “a great project. We’re looking forward to having you stay in downtown Rochester,” he said. “I think it’s good for the city.”

“It is a happy day,” said Rochester Hills Councilman Nathan Klomp, a member of the RARA board since 2006. “We have a building that is too small for our needs. We have more programs to offer … and are currently unable to, given our facility restrictions,” he said. “We’ve come across what we believe is a very good piece of property that will serve our needs well, that is at a very reasonable price given the economic climate.”

RARA will continue to rent school facilities. Program supervisor Brandy Boyd said RARA is typically fourth in line behind the districts’ own needs for school events, sports and community education.

“It’s a constant battle,” she said. “If we want to grow, we really need the opportunity to control our own facilities at all hours.”

The dance program has been particularly popular. It operates out of the current RARA headquarters, where space and parking are severely limited.

“For what we have, we have an amazing program,” Boyd said. “If we have a facility like this, I can’t even imagine what we could offer our communities.”

Jewell said participation is up in RARA programs. And even though revenue from property taxes is down, “We have fortunately, through tight times, been able to add every year to our fund balance. … Parents in the communities recognize that recreation is important.”

The new facility will allow RARA to add more programs, thereby increasing revenue, while at the same time not adding to its operating costs, he said.

“We are essentially losing out on an opportunity to run more programs, increase revenue, provide a better service.”

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