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YMCA looking to build downtown aquatics center with millions in city dollars

Monday, January 30, 2012 by Michael Kanin

Officials with The YMCA of Austin are shopping a proposal to create a city-sponsored aquatics center at the organization’s Town Lake Branch across from Lady Bird Lake. The project is still in its early stages, but the total bill for the effort could be as high as $45 million, according to Austin YMCA President and CEO James Finck, with the organization coming up between $10 and $15 million.


YMCA representatives went to City Hall this month looking for the remainder of the project’s cost. If Finck’s figures hold, that could be between $20 and $35 million. The Y’s team has been looking to the coming 2012 bond election as a funding source, which seems unlikely.


Austin Parks and Recreation head Sara Hensley told In Fact Daily that, though her department had discussed the aquatics center with the YMCA, and that her team had “never said that we didn’t like the idea,” it wasn’t likely to rise to the top of its 2012 list. “We have so many needs,” she said.


Council Member Laura Morrison was skeptical about city sponsorship of the deal. “Investing this amount of taxpayer money on an extravagant facility raises serious concerns especially in the current budget climate where we’re having trouble finding the funds just to keep our neighborhood pools open,” she said.


If approved, the aquatics center would go on city park land near the Town Lake YMCA. Finck says that it would boast two large pools—one for more family-friendly activity, and a 70-meter version that would be intended for competitive swimming and diving. In the process, Finck adds that the facility would be built to solve drainage problems near the site, as well as transportation issues in the area.


“It would correct problems that we all share downtown,” he says.


Finck says the project would also connect to a trail that runs to a set of nearby City of Austin ball fields. He envisions a public-private partnership with the city, hence the trip to City Hall. Finck’s plan calls for the city to help build the facility, and for the Y to run it. He says this provides a benefit for the city. “When (we) run the program, it doesn’t cost tax payers another penny” after the initial investment, Finck says.


For her part, Hensley acknowledges that the aquatics center could solve a set of problems. “We are working as a cohesive group to look at a project that would create multiple outcomes.” she says.


Still, she remains skeptical about the potential inclusion in the 2012 bond package. “We are not in a position at this time to say that we are okay to move forward,” she says. “I have a lot higher things on the list.”

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