Kurt J. Krueger, chairman of the YMCA's board, told the crowd that the lawsuit was the "only thing standing in the way" of the project.
City Council will make the call on the fate of the McIntire Park softball fields
File photo by Ryan Hoover
As the song goes, it's fun to stay at the Y-M-C-A. But apparently it's no picnic building one.
After six years of planning, the Piedmont Family YMCA's plan for a new $15 million, 72,000-square-foot facility in McIntire Park took an important step toward clearing a final hurdle: the dismissal of a pair of lawsuits by a consortium of privately owned fitness clubs against the City and County.
During an April 20 press conference in front of the Downtown Mall's free speech wall, supporters of the joint City/County YMCA project had harsh words for the private club owners.
"Stop the greed," said Lisa Cannell, a parent and YMCA supporter. "We're appealing to the private fitness centers to do what's right for the community and allow this project to move forward."
YMCA supporters have suggested that the club owners are simply trying to protect their business interests. The Charlottesville Area Fitness Club Operators Association (ACAC, Gold's Gym, and Total Performance) have, however, argued that the adopted plan would destroy "priceless green space" and claim they were illegally locked out of the bidding process.
Earlier that morning, the lawsuit filed against the City was dismissed by Charlottesville Circuit Court judge Cheryl V. Higgins. The Association's other lawsuit against the County was dismissed last November.
Lawyer Kurt J. Krueger, chairman of the Y's board, said the lawsuit was the "only thing standing in the way" of the project. Together, the City and County have set aside $3.28 million for the project, with the City also offering to lease the 3.5-acre property, located where the picnic shelters now stand, for a dollar a year.
However, it looks like the fitness club owners aren't willing to step aside.
"An appeal of the County ruling has already been filed," says Christine Thalwitz, ACAC's communications director, "and the group is considering appealing the City case as well."
Thalwitz argues that putting a YMCA in McIntire Park is the "wrong way to do the right thing." While she says that providing fitness services in the community is critical, she adds, "ACAC and other local club owners believe this can be accomplished without destroying McIntire Park or spending millions of taxpayer dollars."
"Some people cannot afford private fitness clubs," said Dr. Norman Oliver, who serves on the YMCA's Capital Development Committee, at the press conference. "The 'Y' is not just a fitness club; they help build strong communities– something the private fitness companies cannot provide."
"In an ideal world, both for-profit and non-profit entities would have had the opportunity to present bids," she says.
Asked what alternatives that ACAC and the other clubs would offer, Thalwitz declined specifics, saying they "would center on priorities indicated in previous needs assessments."
"We're delighted," says Piedmont YMCA CEO Denny Blank of the ruling. "The justice system worked, and right has prevailed."
One can understand Blank's delight. The YMCA first proposed the project in 2003, and along the way the YMCA has been accused of everything from wanting to destroying McIntire Park and its lighted softball fields, to forcing Darden Towe Park to light its softball fields, an idea that angered residents who did not want bright lights in their backyard.
"It's frustrating," says Blank. "We never wanted to eliminate the softball fields. That land isn't even part of the YMCA project; it's part of the City's master plan. In fact, we'd be happy if the City didn't eliminate the softball fields."
As for the YMCA project, City Councilors and County Supervisors appear to be in full support, though some Supes questioned the expenditure last year during a budget session.
"I did have reservations concerning the County spending two million dollars on a YMCA in the middle of Charlottesville," says Supe Duane Snow. "But when I found out a previous board had already signed a contract, it became a matter of standing by our word."
However, the fitness club owners could still pose a threat. As Blank points out, the YMCA will be financing a portion of the project to bridge the gap between cash-on-hand from pledges and the cost of the building.
"We anticipate that the lender will want these appeals to be dealt with in some manner," says Blank, who hopes the appeals can be "considered on an expedited basis." Of course, if the rate of progress on the project so far is any indication, there's no guarantee it will be expedited.
Not if Charlottesville mayor Dave Norris has a say.
"This is a major victory for Charlottesville and Albemarle County families," Norris said at the press conference. "Let's get moving."