2015: Tigard tussles over recreation center pitch, bond measure
Editor's note: This story is part of the The Times' special series, "Decade in Review." This series features three stories that helped to define each year of the 2010s. These can retell single stories that captivated readers of the time, a saga that played out across many articles, and even stories that were crowded to the margins by other news at the time but have made a lasting impact on our region.
It started as the dream of a Bull Mountain real estate agent, but it turned into a prolonged nightmare for the city of Tigard.
In 2014, Neal Brown excitedly pitched city leaders on his idea of building a recreation and community center on Southwest Burnham Street in downtown Tigard. That October, he and other supporters flooded Tigard City Hall, more than 1,200 signatures in hand supporting the concept.
"A community center brings people, people bring money, money brings more businesses, and more businesses bring more people," Brown said, explaining how the proposed rec center could "activate" Tigard's long-neglected downtown area.
Brown, who met his wife at a YMCA in Portland, was keen on the idea of the YMCA of Columbia-Willamette operating his dream facility in Tigard, and the YMCA was interested.
In 2015, the YMCA and the Tigard city government partnered on a $24,000 study to gauge citizen interest in Brown's plan. Some 70% of respondents with children said they were interested in a Tigard YMCA.
As for how to pay for it, well under half of all respondents indicated they'd be willing to shoulder a $10 monthly increase in their property taxes in exchange for getting it built.
Despite those mixed results, the survey team contracted by the YMCA and Tigard recommended that they move forward.
The plan had an enthusiastic backer on the Tigard City Council in the form of Marc Woodard. The grandson of a former Tigard mayor, Woodard had advocated for a community center when he first ran for a seat on the council, and he quickly became Brown and the YMCA's biggest champion at City Hall. He urged the council to refer a bond measure to the ballot in November 2015, rather than waiting to conduct more survey work and public outreach.
"Don't follow status quo and don't miss this opportunity, because that's what frustrated the heck out of me my first four years on council," Woodard said at a contentious May 19, 2015, public meeting. "I won't sit here for another 3½ years and let this opportunity go by without saying what I have on my mind."
Ultimately, the council sided with Woodard. City Councilor John Goodhouse was the only councilor to vote against placing a $34.5 million bond measure before voters that fall.
A citizen group called the Friends of the Downtown Tigard YMCA materialized virtually overnight to support the measure. The YMCA of Columbia-Willamette was its chief patron, dumping more than $30,000 into the local election. Brown took on the role of campaign spokesperson. Reid Iford, another YMCA backer, ran the campaign.
Although the city had put the question to voters, city officials were circumspect about exactly what would happen if the bond measure were approved. There was no contract between Tigard and the YMCA to operate a facility. Much of the site work and planning had yet to be done; in fact, while Brown pointed to Burnham Street as his preferred place for the center, the city hadn't officially selected a location yet.
With lots of unanswered questions, the campaign quickly turned acrimonious. Opponents filed a complaint with the Oregon secretary of state, accusing Brown and Iford's campaign of misleading voters and not following campaign finance law. In a commentary submitted to The Times, Goodhouse urged voters to shoot down the measure his fellow councilors had put on the ballot, saying it was "confusing" and wouldn't do what many people thought it would.
For all of the bitter politicking, when the results came in on Nov. 3, 2015, they tracked with what the joint survey had found back in April. Voters didn't want to have their taxes raised to pay for a rec center, and they rejected the measure by a nearly 2-to-1 margin. Just 34.25% of voters backed it.
"They ran a disingenuous campaign and it came back to bite them," said Vince Arditi, who ran the "no" campaign. "It was a poorly thought-out plan."
Woodard continued to try to marshal support for a rec center in Tigard, but after the decisive 2015 vote, he struggled to gain much traction. He ran unsuccessfully for mayor in 2018, losing to fellow City Councilor Jason Snider. Maybe you believe in coincidence, or maybe you don't: Woodard's share of the vote for mayor was 34.24%.
Meanwhile in 2015, to Tigard's south, local officials and community members celebrated the grand opening of a cornerstone facility for Sherwood.
More than 500 people came out for the grand opening of the Sherwood Center for the Arts on Feb. 28, 2015. The center was built in large part with property tax revenue from Sherwood residents.
"This is an amazing facility for an amazing community," said then-Mayor Krisanna Clark.
Sherwood, of course, already has a recreation center: the Sherwood Regional Family YMCA, which opened in 1998. That YMCA later figured in a major controversy of its own — but that's another story.
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