The Albemarle County Board of Supervisors has asked officials with the Senior Center to guarantee that their new facility on Belvedere Boulevard will remain a nonprofit that supports the community’s aging population before it agrees to begin the release of a $2 million capital contribution.
“There is an obligation to continue to provide the services that they are promising to provide in order to get our money, so they can’t turn it into a college dorm or something like that,” said Supervisor Ann H. Mallek. “I would be stubborn enough to say if it’s not going to be a senior center, I want our money back.”
The Senior Center was founded in 1960 and now is seeking to raise $23 million for a new facility at Belvedere that will include a fitness center, exercise rooms, an auditorium and classrooms that will help the area meet demands for services for older residents.
The Board of Supervisors agreed to contribute $2 million and the Charlottesville City Council agreed to contribute $1.2 million to the project.
On Wednesday, supervisors were asked to ratify a funding agreement that will govern the use of the funds, which were included in the county’s five-year capital improvement program.
“This [is] to be contributed in four annual installments of $500,000 each,” said Bill Letteri, deputy county executive. “The majority of the funding would be coming from private sources and donations. Certainly, this is in keeping with the board’s priority of leveraging public-private partnerships.”
The first $500,000 will not be released until the center has raised 75 percent of the total campaign goal.
Peter Thompson, the center’s executive director, sent an email to supervisors Tuesday stating that the organization so far has raised $11 million in cash. When the sale of the existing facility on Pepsi Place and loans are factored in, he said, the Senior Center is at 70 percent of its capital campaign.
The agreement also states that the Senior Center must return the funding if a building permit is not obtained by June 30, 2021, if a certificate of occupancy is not obtained by June 30, 2024, or if the center loses its nonprofit status.
The Senior Center also would have to repay the money if the Belvedere property is sold before the county funding is spent.
Some supervisors thought the language should be clearer that if the Senior Center did sell the property, the general use must remain the same.
“I don’t think that they’re planning on selling it — and I don’t think they’re planning on it being anything else other than a senior center — but I’d like to make sure we’re protected in case something strange occurs,” said Supervisor Liz Palmer, adding that she did not have a specific period of time in mind.
County officials said the agreement could be revised to eliminate any doubt and the vote could be postponed.
“Staff can certainly go back and look at something that might be seen as reasonable in terms of a reasonable test of a period of time,” said Jeff Richardson, Albemarle’s new county executive.
However, Supervisor Brad Sheffield said he was concerned that restricting the property too far into the future could set a precedent for future public-private partnerships.
“I don’t support deferring this,” Sheffield said. “This is why we had a closed session to discuss this and now there all these other dynamics.”
Sheffield said the Senior Center has been around for decades and is dedicated to its mission.
“For us to think that they are going to abandon that shows a bit of distrust for the entity,” he said.
Hi Ewald, chairman of the Senior Center’s board, said this is the first time the organization has sought public support.
“I can’t predict the future, but this center is going to be a Senior Center as far anyone on the board can tell, and I appreciate and respect the protection of taxpayer dollars,” Ewald said. “We can work something out that would satisfy some finite period.”
Mallek said her objection was not intended to derail the deal.
Letteri said the item will come back to the board at its meeting Nov. 8.
Thompson was not able to attend the meeting. In an interview, he said there are no set dates for groundbreaking or an opening.
“While we do not have a firm answer, we have made great progress this year, thanks in no small part to the city and county investments and firming up partnerships with Sentara Martha Jefferson Hospital and Greenberry’s Coffee to be at the new center,” Thompson said.
“Our working timeline is to break ground by the end of 2018 and be open by early 2020, and we’re working to move that schedule up with the community’s continued investment in this vital project,” he added.
Thompson also said the site plan for the project will be submitted to the county’s community development department next week.