Some details about Sammamish Community Center deal are emerging

January 23, 2013

By Caleb Heeringa

For their $25 million, Sammamish residents would get discounts on membership and programs at the proposed YMCA-run community and aquatic center, free meeting space for community groups and an assortment of free community events.

At a Jan. 15 study session, the Sammamish City Council got a briefing on possible terms of the facility’s operating agreement, which is currently being negotiated between the city and the YMCA and will likely be finalized sometime in February. By a 53.6 to 46.4 margin, Sammamish voters gave a thumbs-up to the project during the November election.

The proposal calls for a 60,000 square foot facility behind the library, featuring a leisure pool with a waterslide and lazy river, a six-lane lap pool, two gymnasiums, fitness equipment, meeting rooms and a children’s playroom. The YMCA would run the facility and put forward more than $5 million towards its construction. The Y would also spend approximately $800,000 furnishing the inside, with the city spending $25 million out of its reserves.

The facility has yet to be designed or put out to bid, though City Manager Ben Yazici suggested the city could break ground on the project sometime in 2014.

Yazici said he felt the agreement strikes a good balance between providing Sammamish citizens with unique benefits that reflect their investment of tax revenue and the YMCA’s need to balance the facility’s books on an annual basis.

“Either (Sammamish or the YMCA) could make an argument that (the operating agreement) could be better for them,” Yazici said. “There’s been lots of give and take, but the fundamentals of what the community asked us to do is there.”

The agreement calls for the city to retain ownership of the building and lease it to the YMCA for $1 a year for 25 years, with an option to extend the lease up to 50 years. The YMCA would similarly lease their land near Pine Lake Middle School to the city for 50 years, provided the city completes a development plan for the site within five years. Several councilmembers have discussed building some sort of covered sports facility on the property to address the city’s sports field needs.

The YMCA would be responsible for maintaining the building and replacing any health equipment that breaks. Any operating surplus would go towards the equipment replacement for the facility. The city would be responsible for upkeep of the facility’s parking garage, since it would be serving City Hall and the Commons area as well.

Swim lessons and recreational and family swims would have first priority as far as pool space, YMCA health and fitness programs would be the next in line and local swim teams would be a third priority.

The contract would also contain termination clauses that would dictate what would happen if either the city or YMCA want out of the partnership. Either party could withdraw from the agreement with 18 months notice. If the YMCA withdraws in the first five years, it would forgo all of its investment into the building. In an email, Sammamish Parks Director Jessi Bond said staff and the YMCA have yet to iron out what would happen if the YMCA pulled out after those five years.

Councilman Ramiro Valderrama said he felt that the YMCA should take the lead in designing the facility, since they’ve got more experience building recreation centers. Mayor Tom Odell disagreed, citing the fact that Sammamish is putting forward a majority of the construction costs.

“We can’t build something for (the YMCA) to operate without them directly involved, but we need to remember this is a city facility,” Odell said. “The city needs to run the show here.”


What do we get?

Proposed benefits to Sammamish residents in the new Sammamish Community and Aquatic Center

  • No joining fee for the first 18 months of operation and a 75 percent discount on the joining fee after that. The YMCA’s joining fee is currently $125.
  • Ten percent off all youth facility-programs like swimming lessons or after school programs.
  • Free meeting space for Sammamish-based community groups
  • Exhibition space for the Sammamish Arts Commission and Sammamish Heritage Society
  • Free programs that wouldn’t require a monthly membership, including monthly senior socials, open houses and weekly community swims.


Opponents still fight

Though the city is marching forward with the community and aquatic center following the November vote on the matter, opponents have not totally given up the fight.

Columbia Athletic Club owner Cy Oskoui sent the council a letter Jan. 15 claiming that the new YMCA facility would put his two Sammamish clubs out of business and called the project “irresponsible and possibly grossly negligent” because the city is not making a profit on its investment. Oskoui asked the council to scale back the project to be a smaller facility that would be less of a competitor to his clubs.

Arthur Goldman, a member of the committee that wrote the “Con” statement in the voters guide, commissioned his own independent phone survey of 300 residents to gauge citizen’s feelings on the project after the vote.

According to the survey, organized by GMA Research Corporation of Bellevue, 54 percent of respondents were opposed to the project compared to 41 percent in favor. The survey also found that 66 percent of those surveyed believe that the city should put the operation of the facility out to bid to see if other entities could do a better job of running it than the YMCA. While the construction of the facility will need to go out to bid, City Attorney Bruce Disend said that state law doesn’t require a formal bidding process for the operation of the building.

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