As the Nov. 6 election comes closer, the vote on the controversial Community Center must be made.
Here are some additional facts:
- Sammamish has a dedicated parks and recreation fund in the budget and this money must, by state law, be spent on these uses. This, $14m of the city’s $25m for its share of the Community Center comes from this fund. If the money isn’t spent on the Community Center, it can only be spent on other parks projects, not roads or other capital projects. I asked one city council member what would happen if the Center project doesn’t go forward and the response was that other park projects “would move to the left.”
- As previously noted, the City will lease land owned by the YMCA that’s next to the Pine Lake Middle School for $1/yr for 50 years if a deal with the Y moves forward for the Community Center. This is contingent upon the City coming up with a master plan within five years for recreational use on the property, which is valued at $1.5m, according to previously published news articles. Council member Nancy Whitten wanted the Y to deed this land over to the City as part of the deal for the Y’s management contract, but this didn’t happen. As another council member put it, for $1 per year for 50 years, what does it matter?
- The requirement for a plan for the Y property doesn’t mean construction has to begin in five years.
What does all this mean? The City invests $25m into a building it will own (the City retains title–it is not a “gift” to the YMCA). The Y invests $5m into the building, another $1m into equipment, tenant improvements and personnel, and leases property valued at $1.5m to the City for 50 years. The Y would get a 40 year management contract of the Center on terms and conditions that haven’t been negotiated.
While the City says there is only a Memorandum of Understanding with the Y for the building and the Y’s land, there isn’t even an MOU for the management contract. And while the City says there isn’t a done deal with the Y, all the conversation has been as if there is one.
Once again, my take is that since the City is asking for citizens to “advise” on this proposal through Proposition 1, we deserve to know the contract details in advance, along with the risk factors if the Center is a money-losing proposition for the Y severe enough to cause the Y to seek renegotiation or termination of the contract.
In the absence of this information, it’s a huge leap of faith for citizens to give approval for the concept as currently outlined in the hopes that the City will get it right thereafter. Given how badly the City has mucked up sending this to the voters in the first place, this doesn’t give a lot of confidence the Administration and the Council will get it right afterwards. There should have been a formal Request for Proposal process to see if, indeed, the Y’s deal is the best deal that can be achieved. It’s hard to believe that a private enterprise would contribute $5m to the capital costs for a building it won’t own and throw in a $1.5m piece of property as well, but the absence of contract details at this stage for voters is very troubling.
Make no mistake: I think we need a Community Center. We’ve needed one since incorporation in 1999 and City officials have dithered way too long. I don’t have any issues, per se, with a public-private partnership.
Nor is this the “give-away” opponents suggest.
But as a businessman, I don’t like sole-sourcing without price-checking. While the City had some informal discussions with others, no RFPs were issued to see what the best deal might be. The Y could be the best deal. But maybe it’s not. In the absence of competitive bidding, the City doesn’t know–and neither do we taxpayers who are being asked to weigh in on Proposition 1.
It is for this reason, and this reason alone, that I will vote No on Proposition 1. It’s not because I don’t want a Community Center–I do. It’s not because the floor plan of the Community Center is bad–that was the case with the $64m, 90,000 sf Taj Mahal, but wiser heads prevailed on that and downsized the facility and the price tag. It’s not even because the Y is involved. It’s just because, in my view, the City didn’t exercise its full fiduciary duty to issue an RFP.
An RFP would allow the owner of the Pine Lake Club to make a bid. He says he can offer the City something for less cost and which will be better than the currently proposed deal. Let him try. Let others try. Let him decide if he wants to bid only on a management contract, if that’s the RFP’s terms and conditions.
I understand the concerns over the competition between a City-owned athletic facility and private enterprise. But I also look at the other amenities in the proposed Community Center, which are sorely needed.
The City needs to give the owner of Pine Lake Club a chance in a fair and open bidding process to respond to the RFP. The Y can bid and so can others.
That’s the way it should be for $25m taxpayer dollars.