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May 13, 2010

Fitness group sues Albemarle and Charlottesville over YMCA

Reader comments (0) DailyProgress By Sean Tubbs
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Thursday, May 13, 2010

A group of fitness clubs is suing Albemarle County and the City of Charlottesville, claiming the two governments unlawfully awarded over $3 million in capital funds to the Piedmont Family YMCA for construction of a new pool in McIntire Park.

The Charlottesville Area Fitness Club Owners’ Association filed the lawsuit in both localities’ circuit courts Wednesday. The association, which formed specifically for this purpose, includes ACAC Fitness and Wellness Centers, Gold’s Gym and Total Performance Sports and Fitness.

The suits maintains that Albemarle and Charlottesville violated the Virginia Public Procurement Act by not giving the clubs the option of bidding on the aquatic services that will be offered by the YMCA. The YMCA is not a party to the lawsuit.

“We feel we were unjustly denied the opportunity to participate,” said Greg Wells, CEO of ACAC.

According to Wells, the county provided no notice that there was an opportunity. The county agreed to a use agreement in January 2008.

Charlottesville did so, but stated in its notice that only proposals submitted by non-profit groups would be allowed.

The city gave notice of the proposal by way of a legal advertisement that was published in early October 2007. Bids were opened to “persons interested in leasing approximately 3.5 acres of land [in McIntire Park]… for the purpose of developing a non-profit fitness and recreational center of approximately 70,000 square feet.” At a public hearing held on Oct. 15, the Piedmont Family YMCA was the only bidder.

Wells said he felt the city and county missed an opportunity not to reach out to for-profit clubs, who he said could have provided services at a cheaper cost. The suit calls for an opportunity to rebid the services, as well as a suspension of any construction activities.

“Hopefully this will allow for for-profit companies to suggest alternatives to save the park, to save taxpayers $3 million, and to prevent future liabilities,” Wells said. He added he is concerned that the city may find itself needing so step in to operate the facility should Piedmont Family YMCA go out of business.

Wells said he supports the mission of the YMCA, but feels it was unfair to have been excluded.

“The goal is to make sure all of the options are on the table,” said Chris Craytor, ACAC’s vice president for development. He added that the suit is not motivated by business interests, but out of a concern that over $3 million worth of taxpayer dollars may be spent unlawfully.

“There are more urgent needs in our community at the moment,” Craytor said.

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 city attorney’s office said it could not yet comment on the lawsuit because it had not been served with the paperwork. The county attorney’s office did not return a call requesting comment on Wednesday, and county Supervisor Dennis S. Rooker said he would like to read through the suit before commenting.

While Mayor Dave Norris said he couldn’t comment specifically on the suit’s merits, he said, “I have no reason to believe that we did anything inappropriate in crafting the request for proposals.”

Norris was one of three councilors who voted in favor of allowing the YMCA to lease land in McIntire Park.

“It’s a real win-win for our community,” he said of the new facility.

The city has designated $1.25 million for construction of the pool at the YMCA, and the county is expected to contribute $2.03 million.

YMCA board Chairman Kurt Krueger said in an interview that the YMCA is not a defendant and that he could not comment further until giving the suit additional review.

“The county has statutory power to make contributions to charities so long as the benefits go in part to the citizens of Albemarle,” Krueger said. “That is what this is, a charitable contribution.”

Bob Fenwick, a member of the Coalition to Preserve McIntire Park and an opponent of the YMCA on that parkland, welcomed the suit. Fenwick said that group never had the resources to pursue legal action but that he thought it would be a good thing.

“I hope they’re successful. I hope it saves the park,” he said.

Daily Progress staff writer Rachana Dixit contributed to this story.

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