YMCA officials hopeful for summer construction, pending lawsuit

By Sean Tubbs

Charlottesville Tomorrow

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Artist’s rendering of the planned YMCA (Source: VMDO Architects/Piedmont Family YMCA)

Officials with the Piedmont Family YMCA are continuing to plan for a new, 77,000-square-foot aquatics and fitness center in Charlottesville’s McIntire Park, despite a pending lawsuit.

On April 1, Judge Cheryl Higgins will hear testimony in a case filed against the city by a consortium of local fitness groups. A similar suit against Albemarle County was dismissed in November, and YMCA officials are hoping the city suit will be dismissed as well.

“We want to have all of our pieces in place so that when that decision is rendered we’ll be able to move forward,” said Denny Blank, CEO of the Piedmont Family YMCA.

The lawsuit by the Charlottesville Area Fitness Club Owners’ Association claims the city violated the Virginia Public Procurement Act by not giving ACAC, Gold’s Gym and other for-profit clubs the option to respond to a request for proposals to build and operate a recreational center. The suit also alleges the city unlawfully entered into a ground lease with the YMCA.

Judge Edward Hogshire was originally scheduled to hear the city case, but recused himself because a family member does work for the city.

A spokesman for the fitness clubs said in an interview he does not think Higgins will dismiss the city case.

“We remain confident in our position and feel that the decision in the county suit does not impact the case against the city,” said Chris Craytor, ACAC’s vice president for development. “The issues at the heart of each case are different and will be decided on their respective merits.”

Earlier this week, attorneys for the fitness clubs filed an appeal to the Virginia Supreme Court of the dismissal of the Albemarle County case, which was also heard by Higgins.

However, YMCA officials are preparing to proceed if the city suit is also dismissed.

Source: VMDO Architects/Piedmont Family YMCA

“We’ve hired [Davenport and Co.] to do a financial analysis of where we are to see if we can handle debt service and a mortgage so we can secure financing,” Blank said.

Blank said he hopes that ground can be broken on the facility in mid-June, after the Dogwood Festival has concluded. He estimated construction would take about 16 months and could cost as much as $16 million.

“A lot of things are coming in under construction [cost] estimates because people are hungry for work,” Blank said. “But it’s not going to stay bottomed out forever.”

Albemarle County is contributing $ million toward construction of the center, and the city will pay $ million. The rest of the nearly $16 million project will be raised in a capital campaign.

The city approved a ground lease for the YMCA in December 2007. Under the terms of the lease, the YMCA will occupy the space for 40 years at a cost of $1 per year.

The preliminary site plan was approved by the Planning Commission in November 2009, and city staff are currently reviewing the final site plan. That item needs no further review by the City Council or the Planning Commission.