Rec center is back in action

Published 1:43 pm Sunday, October 2, 2016

City, Y revives rec center plan with changes Vision 2020 calls win-win

 Months after negations between the city of Austin and YMCA hit a stalemate after the YMCA board voted down a City Council-approved lease agreement in June, the council is primed to vote on an amended lease agreement during its 5:30 p.m. meeting on Monday at Austin City Hall, 500 Fourth Ave. NE.

“We’re excited about the possibility and seeing the project move forward for the community of Austin,” City Administrator Craig Clark said. “It’s a great opportunity.”

Under the new agreement, the city will still give $200,000 a year to the rec center, but it would go toward more specific uses rather than operations, which will give the YMCA more discretion to set the fees for much of the facility. Vision 2020 Director Greg Siems called it a win-win for the city and YMCA.

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“We’re happy that the conversations continued and that both sides were able to settle on something that makes sense for both sides,” Siems said.

The council voted 5-2 on June 6 to approve the rec center to be built at the downtown Austin Municipal Plant site and it approved a lease agreement.

However, the YMCA and city officials were at odds over day pass costs and the proposed frequency people could use day passes, as well as membership fees and public access. That raised concerns about the Y maintaining or growing its membership and its longterm operations.

Clark said the Y and city approached the most recent negotiations from a different perspective to accommodate both parties and address concerns.

The city had committed $200,000 a year for operations of the public access areas, but now, if approved, the city would designate $100,000 a year for a Youth Activity Center and indoor playground — both of which would be free and accessible to the public.

“It’s really getting it focused, from the city the community side of things, the things that we re specifically requested or were seen as really important by community members,” Siems said.

An additional $100,000 a year from the city would go toward forming a scholarship fund to help moderate income Austin residents access the rest of the facility.

Money had originally been in place for public access to the walking track, discounted access to the aquatic center and for overall public access, but those now will be managed and maintained by the YMCA, which aimed to remove concerns over Y membership and operations costs.

Siems called it a deal that should please both sides, as the city’s money goes toward community wants, while the Y has more discretion over operations and fees.

“We’re happy that the conversations continued and that both sides were able to settle on something that makes sense for both sides,” Siems said.

While the walking track had been a key concern for community access, Siems said people can now walk in the winter months for free at the seasonal dome over Art Hass Field, which proved popular in its first year.

“Now that we have the dome, it’s largely been addressed,”  Siems said of the need for an indoor walking site.

Along with the free indoor playground and free Youth Activity Center, the plan is for there to be a public gathering space in what’s now the plant’s Turbine Room, but that will depend on feasibility once the project is closer to design and construction.

The rec center would cost $35 million to build with $25 million pledged by The Hormel Foundation, $5 million from Hormel Foods Corp. and another $5 million is to be raised through a community campaign.

If the project moves forward, Siems said the Vision 2020 rec center committee will reconvene to assist with design plans and different aspects of the project, though he didn’t know if construction would be able to start in 2017.

In recent months, the negotiations have largely been between the city and YMCA.

“We’ve certainly tried to facilitate the process,” Siems said of Vision 2020’s recent role.

The facility would feature a new YMCA with an aquatic center, gyms, a gymnastics facility, workout rooms and a running track along with public spaces like an indoor playground, a Youth Activity Center and meeting rooms.

The site would be owned by the city and leased to the YMCA, with many of the lease terms approved in June still in place. The city would be responsible for maintenance and future upkeep of the public portions of the facility, while the YMCA would be responsible for its portions.