RARA seeks new HQ

For the past decade, the Rochester Avon Recreation Authority has been feeling the need to expand beyond its rented headquarters on East Second Street in downtown Rochester.

Though spending $130,000 a year on rent and taxes, the RARA board has been putting aside money towards a future facility. Now, with new Executive Director Ron Jewell on board, RARA is ready to plot its next move. In January, Jewell appeared before both the Rochester and Rochester Hills city councils.

“For over 10 years the RARA board has had this idea in mind,” he said. “As a part of this process, RARA has diligently allocated funds to a specific building fund within the budget, waiting for the right time. … RARA feels that time is now.”

Since 1946, RARA has served the cities of Rochester and Rochester Hills (formerly Avon Township) with recreation programs for all ages. With 150 classes a week enrolling 1,400 students, RARA rents athletic fields and interior spaces in parks and schools in addition to its 10,000 square-foot headquarters. Funding comes from the cities and enrollment fees.

“We have simply outgrown the current facility,” Jewell said. “This, of course, has limited the growth of our current program and also does not allow for new programs.”

There is little parking at the headquarters building. When renting city or school facilities, RARA has to compete with other activities that want the same spaces.

“Quite simply put, $130,000 a year could be much better utilized by putting it back into our programs,” Jewell said. “This could easily be achieved by investing into RARA’s future (with) a new headquarters for Rochester and Rochester Hills this community can call its own.”

On the wish list are a gym, multi-purpose room, classrooms, playscape and greenspace. ”A place that would allow programs to flourish,” Jewell said. “A place to expand an already impressive list of opportunities.”

In recent years, several proposals have come and gone that proposed including RARA as a partner with other entities. In 2007, the Legacy Committee proposed a mixed-use, non-profit art center for downtown Rochester that would have provided, at the very least, new office space. It was to be privately funded but has yet to come to fruition.

In 2008, in response to RARA’s request for proposals, Total Soccer proposed a partnership to build a soccer facility in Rochester Hills’ Borden Park. Hills City Council never approved.

While a future partnership hasn’t been ruled out, Jewell said RARA is now looking to be the lead on any project to make sure its needs are met. At least 25,000 square feet is the goal.

Hills Councilman Nathan Klomp, who serves on the RARA board, said no specific site has been identified. Options include new construction or purchasing an existing facility.

“The fact is we’ve outgrown the space significantly in Rochester in our current location,” Klomp said. “We’re turning programs down. The space is definitely not enough room for our staff and the operation that I believe our community wants to have, and what we’re capable of providing. …

“We signed the lease agreement in good times, when leases were not as low as they are today,” he continued. “So we are excited to move on and find something at a cheaper rate. And further, we recognize that commercial real estate in and around the community is at a bargain rate right now.”

Jewell’s proposal was well-received by both city councils. He said he would be back as plans develop.

“I think it’s high time and I’m looking forward to the progress in that,” said Rochester Mayor Stuart Bikson, a former member of the RARA board.

Rochester Councilwoman Cathy Daldin said her daughter took dance classes at RARA. “I’m thrilled that you’re going to do something like this. I think it’s money well spent,” she said.

Rochester Hills Mayor Bryan Barnett said he feels RARA is going about the process “methodically.” He said RARA provides value to the community and that its current headquarters “needs help.”

“The reputation you have built for providing services, I think, will help you moving forward,” he said.

RARA headquarters

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