Gym suit: McIntire Park deal draws litigation from fitness firms
The local "Y" just can't seem to find a break. First, the Piedmont Virginia YMCA got embroiled in an acrimonious battle launched by a City Council decision to push softball out of the town's biggest park. And now the Y's plan to take a piece of that park for its nearly $15 million fitness facility while accepting some public funding has drawn a lawsuit–- backed by three of the biggest local players on the local fitness scene.
The contretemps started two years ago when the City agreed to hand over a little over three acres inside McIntire Park while paying $1.25 million in taxpayer money–- coupled with the County's allocation of $2.03 million–- in exchange for various benefits including dibs on swim lanes for high school students and free admission for impoverished families. Opponents leapt out of the woodwork: the assertive Save McIntire campaign, softball players, even anti-Meadowcreek Parkway activists.
But long after the ink dried on the deal and the Y began finalizing plans, a new hurdle arose May 12 when Charlottesville's top private health clubs appeared with a lawsuit portraying the dollar-a-year land lease illegal under Virginia state law.
"It's really all about fairness," says Atlantic Coast Athletic Club CEO Greg Wells. "We were unjustly and unfairly denied the opportunity to participate in the [bidding] process."
ACAC is a cornerstone of the Charlottesville Area Fitness Club Operators Association–- including Gold's Gym and Total Performance Sports and Fitness–- which is waging the lawsuit filed against the city and county in their respective circuit courts and requesting a halt to all construction and a do-over on the bidding process.
"Rules and regulations are in place from the state of Virginia that say everyone needs a fair shake–- the rules were not followed in this case," says Chris Craytor, ACAC's vice president for development. "We're not against the YMCA; we have no ill will towards the YMCA at all."
Although the YMCA is not an active party in the lawsuit, any insistence of "no ill will" rings false to Y Chairman Kurt Krueger, who believes the injunction will only continue to harm the already-vilified Y.
"The sad part is that it's apparent that these private health club owners have no intention of wanting to operate in McIntire," says Krueger. "What they're trying to do is delay us."
According to Krueger, the YMCA and area's private health clubs have flat-out different aims: while the clubs are for-profit facilities, the Y's only purpose is to "build community," including reaching out to underprivileged families.
"The downtown ACAC is a block and a half from Garrett Square," says Krueger, referring to a prior name for the subsidized housing complex now known as Friendship Court. "Those kids haven't been invited to use the ACAC swimming pool."
Krueger notes that the despite the ancient name emphasizing one religion and one gender, the Y is an inclusive place.
"This is a movement founded nearly 150 years ago, and it's mission is not to provide a place to work out," says Krueger. "It's mission is to build community, teaching people our core values of honesty, respect, responsibility–- the vehicle to do that is to participate in sports together."
ACAC officials, however, insist the club does its fair share.
"A lot of what we do in the community is done quietly," Craytor says. "We're not looking for recognition."
Craytor contends that city and county residents will lose out if the YMCA breaks ground in McIntire, as $3.28 million in tax money and park land would be unwisely spent.
"People who live, work, and pay taxes deserve to have all options considered by the government," says Craytor, noting that both the city and county's needs assessments encouraged partnerships with for-profit businesses. "That wasn't pursued at all," says Craytor. "Our door is always open."
If the bidding process for McIntire's land were indeed opened up to for-profit facilities, would the private jump at the opportunity to expand their holdings into the public park? Doesn't sound like it.
"We as a group would rather see the adaptation of existing facilities to meet the needs of the community," says Craytor. "The number one priority for the County is the preservation of green space–- this runs counter to that."
Krueger remains doubtful. Having raised a total of $9 million for the Y, his board is ready to review the building's plans at the end of the month. This lawsuit, he says, will only set back the opportunity for citizens to build community together.
"When [the ACAC] says this lawsuit is a last resort, that implies that they were making constructive proposals or trying to reach out," Krueger says. "There has been no reach-out, no offers of collaboration, only opposition to what we are doing."
–the above story was published online on Tuesday, May 18