As Jackson officials move toward a decision whether to build a new community center, it appears city leaders would do well to follow that classic, distinctly American piece of advice:
Go west, young man.
Because in western Missouri, one finds Nixa, a bedroom community to Springfield and very comparable to Jackson in many ways.
Jackson officials are looking west to an enviable project that their counterparts in Nixa put together in a creative way.
While Jackson has been talking about a new community center for five years, Nixa has been building one. It sits on a 37-acre site and features a pool that has taken in more than half its expected annual revenue in just a few weeks. Nixa's community-center complex also has a gym with six basketball goals, a walking trail, volleyball courts, classroom areas and a cafe.
Perhaps the most remarkable feature of Nixa's showplace is the way it was funded. Voters there wouldn't pass a tax to pay for the center, even though they said they wanted it. But when a new Wal-Mart Supercenter was announced, the board of aldermen committed $400,000 in anticipated sales-tax revenue to the recreation complex. Growth in other business sectors was booming as well.
In 2000, voters passed not a tax increase, but a ballot item giving the city permission to sell $4.1 million in bonds for the center. The city also obtained $900,000 in grants, $190,000 in corporate donations -- about half of those from companies using Youth Opportunity Program tax credits -- and another $70,000 from Pepsi in return for putting its logo on the basketball court.
A local company leases the second floor of the facility as a gym, contributing a third of the amount needed to pay off the bond debt.
Nixa's parks superintendent said the city has received nothing but praise for the new center, which is used by young people and seniors alike.
Jackson's project has been delayed because the city is waiting to see if the school district would like to be a part of the plan. The district is expecting a consultant's report on its needs soon and should be able to make a decision based, in part, on that report.
However, even if the school district decides not to be a part of the project -- understandable, given some problems it has had getting financing for needed improvement due to rapid growth -- Jackson would do well to look for creative ways to get a center that would benefit the entire community.
Mayor Paul Sander said it "might be worth a trip out there" to Nixa to see the center, which would take a little time but could really pay off for the residents of Jackson.