The American Legion Post 249 has a problem.
The country they served is trying mightily to regulate them out of existence.
The post home at 220 East Yosemite Avenue that has served veterans well for over 70 years now violates federal handicapped access standards.
They need a handicapped access ramp as well as a major reconfiguration to make the restrooms comply as well. And to be honest, the veterans’ ranks have more than a few members that would benefit from such upgrades.
But here’s the dilemma. In order to accomplish what they need and do it right, it may cost $300,000. That’s a hefty price tag for a group with a liberal sprinkling of retirees.
There are Manteca City Council members that want to help.
The council was responsible for out-of-the-box thinking that brought forth the Moffat Community Center that in turn was leased long-term to the Jimmie Connors Veterans of Foreign Wars Post for their use and to oversee community rentals and such.
Some view the $1.3 million Moffat Community Center as a Trojan horse of sort contending it was never intended be a community center. That’s a fair enough concern but let’s be clear what happened.
There were needs in the community. The VFW needed a home. The community needs more rentable public spaces for everything from small fundraisers to wedding receptions. And the city needed a way to kick start the stalled revival of the Moffat corridor that they’ve invested well over $11 million in over the past decade from the transit station to Spreckels BMX Park to actual street improvements and demolition of old eyesores and death traps.
The kitchen debate aside, it was a pretty straight forward deal from the start. No one was misleading anyone.
The fact the VFW will literally man the building five days a week will provide a much needed presence and assure activity and positive attention will be brought to the Moffat corridor. Giving community life to Moffat in time should lead to private sector investments to slowly transform it into an annex of sorts for central Manteca business and professional uses as well as to upgrade housing opportunities.
In a way, the Legion Hall isn’t much different. It is rented for various private and community events and is a meeting place for some youth groups.
So how can the city help?
First, the Legion should treat the handicapped ramp project as a separate undertaking. Between donated materials and other help at cost they could get the $18,000 price tag down to $8,000 or so especially given they don’t have to pay prevailing wages as the city does.
The balance of the project is more problematic and honestly too big for the Legion to undertake on their own.
The city — which has a flair for creative thinking when it comes to things such as landing Bass Pro Shops, Costco, and the Great Wolf Resort — could enter into a long-term partnership with the Legion to remodel the Legion Hall as a community center for downtown. The big difference would be the primary name would be the McFall-Grisham American Legion Post 249 and the second billing would be the Downtown Community Center, the reverse of the Moffat building where the city gets top billing and the VFW is second banana.
The agreement could be written in such a manner that as long as it is maintained as a community center as well as a Legion hall for 50 years, there is no payment. And at the end of 50 years if it was used consistently as such ownership of the improvements would go automatically to the post. It is similar to the deal the city made a few years back with HOPE Ministries to modernize the HOPE Family Shelter at Yosemite and Sequoia avenues completely on the city’s dime.
If that isn’t enough to make the deal work, it could also include selling the city the 15 parking spaces on Legion property that the city currently leases for $1,000 a year.
Done right a remodeled Legion hall can more effectively serve both veterans and as well as the community.
Serving the needs of groups in the community to gather for meetings or events is not really much different than the city providing recreational opportunities such as baseball fields for sports enthusiasts.
One of the big selling points of Big League Dreams was the fact the city would have a facility for the community to use that didn’t require taxpayer money to manage, maintain or operate.
To those who believe the 20,000-square-foot conference center that the city will own if Great Wolf goes forward will address community meeting needs, get a reality check.
The conference center is being designed to lure people to Manteca and as such the prices structure and events that are booked there will reflect that reality.
As for anyone from the city saying there’s no money, then what was the point of cobbling together big deals starting with Spreckels Park, Orchard Valley, and then Big League Dreams if some of that “extra” money generated to the general fund doesn’t show up as improved community amenities?
The city squandered $11 million in bonus bucks collected on the back of new home buyers that was supposed to make sure the entire community was enriched by growth. Instead it was used to artificially prop up salaries when the city couldn’t really afford them.
A downtown community center is a way of making growth pay dividends for the community.
This column is the opinion of executive editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Bulletin or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or 209.249.3519.