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NL Community Center needs more specifics, less cheerleading

New London — And so the City Council has unanimously endorsed a $30 million community center to be built at Fort Trumbull, a decision that will illustrate whether the 06320 has learned anything from cautionary tales past.

Because I worry when I read phrases, as written in Tuesday's paper, such as "still in its planning phase" and "design subject to change" in a city whose dysfunction has always been in the details.

I worry when I read, "the city projects that revenues will exceed operational costs by the fourth year in operation. Those revenues combined with potential funding from corporate sponsors and fundraising efforts would contribute to a capital improvement fund and help defray the project's debt."

Again: New London historically does details with all the sincerity of Alex Rodriguez. Our projects are bigger on rhetorical usefulness (Look! We did something!) than practical application (um, who's going to do the work?)

So I ask:

Who are the "potential" corporate sponsors? Where is "potential" fundraising coming from? Who's in charge of finding corporate sponsors? Who's in charge of fundraising? What else needs to be planned in this "planning phase?" Why is the design subject to change? And change to what?

Moreover, what corporate sponsor would be interested in another fitness facility in a region that's up to its ascot in them? By my count, we have two Planet Fitness locations (Groton, Waterford), three Anytime Fitness locations (Niantic, Montville, Salem), two Snap Fitness locations (Niantic, Old Lyme), two CrossFits, two Renegades and several private facilities such as G's in Waterford and Advantage in Niantic and Mystic.

Such evidence suggests this project will be supported almost solely by New Londoners who may or may not have the means to do so. People from the burbs with fitness interests are entrenched in the aforementioned facilities. Then there's this: Nobody from the burbs wants to come here anyway.

Once the novelty erodes and adult participation flattens, we'll return to what the primary focus of this community center ought to be: kid-centric. A place for the kids to go after school and on weekends. A place for rec leagues, summer leagues, swim meets, swim lessons and other ways for kids to occupy themselves that doesn't include screen time.

Once again, I ask: How are the kids going to consistently — note the word consistently — gain access to a community center that's relatively isolated? Will there be buses? At what cost? On whose dime? I'm far less interested in whether some guy from E.B. gets to swim a few laps after work as I am with the kids' access to playing with their friends whenever they feel like it.

One of this city's millstones has always been a cacophony of doomsayers and naysayers who need to justify their existences — or worse, kill an idea because someone else thought of it first. Not my intention. I ask this stuff because I care. I want this to succeed. There is potential.

Examples: This project's six-lane pool could be the new home for the ECC swim championships in fall and winter. It could be the new home for the ECC basketball summer and fall leagues that are currently played in an elementary school in Gales Ferry. Recreational leagues would allow New London kids to play with other New London kids, perhaps developing bonds than would encourage them to remain together at the new middle school and high school, rather than exploring other educational options.

Heck, the very nature of the words "community center" impart the underlying message of "community," perhaps hearkening better days when the Whalers won everything.

So to be clear: I am for this project. It's just that I know the dramatis personae in this city all too well. As Steve Jobs once said: "Details matter. It's worth waiting to get it right."

There are too many details flapping in the wind here for me to start breathing into a brown paper bag about this. Too many details in a city whose formula in previous situations has been "make George do it."

Can't have that here.

The kids need you. They need me. They need us. They need more than lip service thrown their way. This project is a real chance to give them an outlet they desperately need.

This project's importance demands less cheerleading and more specifics. So who emerges as a leader? Who shuns rhetoric for actual work? As DeNiro in "Cape Fear" says: "Come out, come out wherever you are."

This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro


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