City officials shocked Flat Rock Community Center users with the recent announcement that they were considering selling it.
Although talk of the entertainment center sale has surfaced in the past, it has only been seriously considered over the past two weeks, as the city prepares to approve its budget for the 2022-23 fiscal year.
Several people became aware of the potential sale through a sign hanging on the building’s door telling members that Flat Rock City Council wanted their community center closed. Then this news spread like wildfire on social media.
Heather Bettler, who serves as director of programming for Flat Rock Parks and Recreation, said the potential sale of the building is important to more than just Flat Rock residents, because the facility serves residents of many surrounding communities, including Gibraltar, Rockwood, Woodhaven, Brownstown and Huron Township. .
Furthermore, officials said many of the users come from the northern county of Monroe.
When the building opened in 2005, it was initially intended only for Flat Rock residents, but that changed almost immediately.
Mayor Mark Hammond said the facility occupies 52,000 square feet and is located on 27 acres. It has the ability to easily serve many more people than those who only stay in Flat Rock, which is why the city quickly opened it up to non-residents, who pay higher fees than city residents.
The potential sale is also of great interest to swimmers, since the community center has the only public pool in town.
Flat Rock Community Schools do not have their own pool, so their students use the City Pool. At one point the school district had a pool at Simpson Middle School, but they decided they no longer wanted it, so the district currently has an agreement with the recreation center. Since swimming meetings are held there, closing the pool will have a huge impact on them as well.
So why is the city considering selling its community center?
“With COVID, we’ve been in a downturn for a year and a half,” Butler said. “No one came to the facility. We don’t have programs. Even when it opened, people were still hesitant.”
While each facility similar to Flat Rock Community Center was in the same situation, the community had another major problem to contend with late last summer — a gas leak that caused several residents to evacuate for several weeks.
But according to Butler, things are much better now.
“We’re killing her here,” she said. “We have a large number of programs planned. The rental facilities and banquet hall are being rented out for the next several months. We are booked every weekend for the next eight months.”
Hammond said the issue of putting the center up for sale was first raised by council member John Bergeron at the council’s June 6 meeting, which was the council’s first full budget session.
Hammond said one of his concerns in publishing the community center for sale is that it will have an immediate impact on events scheduled there. Those people who are looking for an event venue will be very hesitant to book their special event at a facility that may not exist in the near future.
One of the issues Hammond said he believes should be addressed is the fact that the community center does not currently have full-time staff.
“Coronavirus hit us hard,” he said. “We had to lay people off. The manager and facilities manager were the only ones working. People found other jobs. They couldn’t wait a year and a half for a salary.”
No banquets or meetings can be held for an extended period, and even when the pool is allowed to reopen, there can be no more than 25 people in the pool, which means not many lifeguards are needed.
Hammond’s proposal is to bring back at least five full-time jobs. This will not create new positions, he said, but rather restore positions that already existed before the pandemic.
The Board held a working study session Monday evening, with the community center being the main topic of discussion. It was a standing room only, but as per the rules of work study sessions, members of the audience were not allowed to ask questions or make comments.
Hammond said he made himself available after the meeting to anyone willing to ask questions, but only a few did. It is believed that the discussion during the meeting probably answered most of the questions asked.
The issue is expected to be decided upon at a city council meeting on June 20, which begins at 7:30 p.m. Flat Rock City Hall is located at 25500 Gibraltar Road. That’s when next year’s budget is officially approved.
At this meeting, the public will be allowed to address the City Council with their questions, comments and concerns regarding the potential sale of the community center. Based on the debate on the topic, there should be no shortage of discussion.
“My email has exploded and so has my phone,” Hammond said.
However, there is one message the mayor wants to convey to those who believe the community center will close. While it is possible that it will be sold, it is not believed that this will happen.
He said there are no community entertainment programs that make money. Their main goal is to provide society with the necessary services and not to lose money. Most of them are trying to break even.
The city currently pays more than $900,000 in bond payments for the building, but those bonds will be repaid within the next two years.
Hammond said that because the community center has been booked for several months, all those payments will have to be returned and memberships will have to be redeemed, eliminating any profits made through the sale of the building, which are worth about $7 million.
“We are on the road to recovery,” he said.