City mulls rec center partnership with Vision 2020

Published 10:14 am Tuesday, April 21, 2015


Mayor, Council voice concerns about costs

The Austin City Council hopes the city will partner with the YMCA of Austin and Vision 2020 on a new community recreation center — but it has a lot of questions before anything is set.

Council members questioned everything from maintenance costs to city programming during a work session Monday night where representatives from Vision 2020 and the YMCA fielded comments and concerns from the council.

Vision 2020 Community Recreation Center Committee volunteers hope the city and YMCA will coexist in a new rec center, which will house all of the Y’s programming and extra space set for city-sponsored use. The idea is the city would help pay for maintenance costs, parks and recreation staff who work at the center, and other issues as they come up.

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Mayor Tom Stiehm and other council members said they want to the city to agree to run part of the center, as long as it functions more as a community resource than an expanded YMCA. In addition, city officials would love to help promote the rec center but don’t feel enough has been solidified to sell the project to the community.

“How are we going to make it a rec center?” Stiehm said. “I don’t think we’ve defined that yet, and that’s something we’re going to work on.”

City officials hope the center will include teen programming, dedicated time for residents to use the facilities at little to no cost, access to an indoor playground and aquatic center, and dedicated multipurpose rooms, among other things.

The city shut down its Youth Activity Center in December after staff safety issues and other issues with students who came to the YAC.

City officials hope the rec center could have programming geared specifically for students.

Vision 2020 volunteers say they plan to include programming not just for teens but for families as well, which was a big part of the rec center committee’s feasibility study done in 2012 and 2013.

“It’s important for those families to do things together,” Committee Co-Chair Tanya Medgaarden said.

Some council members say there hasn’t been enough financial discussions on the rec center. Council Member Jeff Austin estimated the council could have to raise the city’s tax levy by about 5 percent — or about $200,000 — just to pay for ongoing costs. Council Member Judy Enright hoped Vision 2020 volunteers would put together a plan to set aside money for future renovations the rec center will likely need as it ages.

Several council members hoped the Hormel Foundation, which will likely fund much of the center’s $35 million construction, would also help pay for ongoing rec center costs, as well as financial aid for residents who want to use the rec center.

“Our demographic is poor in Austin,” Council Member Steve King said.

King also noted much of the feedback he has heard from the community has involved a negative reaction toward the YMCA. King and other council members were concerned the rec center would be viewed as nothing more than a new Y, which King said hadn’t been a positive for residents he spoke with.

“To me, that should be a concern,” he said.

Though the council believed the Y’s negative publicity stemmed from the cost of Y memberships, YMCA Executive Director Tedd Maxfield said the Y is more than happy to give financial aid to those who need it.

“We don’t turn anyone away,” he said.

What’s more, Maxfield hoped the city would partner with the Y on the rec center to accomplish more recreational opportunities than what the Y or the city could do on their own.

Vision 2020 also hopes to keep fees for Austin residents as low as possible.

“We’re trying to make it as affordable as we can,” Committee Co-Chair Matt Cano said.

The council and Vision 2020 volunteers met Monday in advance of a busy year for the rec center committee. Once the rec center’s location is chosen, volunteers will hire an architect to design the center and plan for programming space.

Though city officials have consistently said they hope to work more closely with Vision 2020 volunteers, Stiehm said the city has to live up to its word now that so much is coming together.

“Things are lining up,” he said.

The issue so far: Vision 2020’s Community Recreation Center

The Community Recreation Center Committee has made strides since Vision 2020 formed in 2012. Committee members have gathered research, done a feasibility study on the community’s recreation needs and narrowed a list of 24 potential recreation center sites in the area down to two possible downtown locations, including the Austin Utilities downtown plant.

Thus far, volunteers plan to get funding set for the $35 million proposed building once plans are set, with no funding from the city as part of the construction project.

The feasibility study, performed by Anderson, Niebuhr & Associates Inc. of the Twin Cities, found 58 percent of Austin and nearby residents would either definitely, probably or maybe join a new YMCA/rec center, 90 percent of current members would continue at an upgraded facility, and 41 percent of residents who wouldn’t join the Y would at some point use a pay-per-use portion of the rec center.

The $54,000 study used in-depth phone interviews with 21 “influential community members,” a focus group of Hispanic families and parents with young children, and surveys with 100 current Austin YMCA members, 350 Austin residents and 50 Mower County residents near Austin. It was accurate within plus or minus 10 percentage points for YMCA members and plus or minus 5 percentage points for residents, and assumed a Y membership would be $45 monthly for individuals and $65 for families.

Yet the group found renewed interest last fall after Vision 2020 and Austin Public Schools announced a $5.2 million dome and artificial turf project to renovate Wescott Field.

The committee has researched other rec centers in communities like Andover, Minnesota, where cities share the rec center space with a local YMCA. Big changes could take place if the YMCA chooses to help run a rec center in Austin, but committee members say they hope to make a rec center affordable and keep membership costs where they are, if not lower.

The new rec center could have more amenities such as a large fitness space with a track for walking and running, an aquatic center featuring multiple pools, therapeutic sauna and whirlpool, and more.