Friday, February 25, 2005

Veto override clears way for YMCA lease

Council agrees to conduct financial success analysis

Express Staff Writer

The Ketchum City Council and Mayor Ed Simon reached a compromise Tuesday, Feb. 22, on how to proceed with consideration of a 99-year lease of land for a new YMCA on a portion of city property currently used as a Park and Ride lot and summer concert venue.

The city council overturned Simon's veto of the council's Feb. 7 decision to repeal Ordinance 940, which in 2004 mandated that the city conduct an advisory election on whether public land should be provided for the YMCA project.

City officials have maintained that repealing Ordinance 940 would clear the way to signing a land lease with the YMCA. An advisory election was held in November—with a solid majority of citizens voting in favor of a YMCA land lease—but not all the requirements of the ordinance were satisfied by the vote.

At a special meeting Thursday, Feb. 17, the city council began to work out the details of an agreement to lease to the Ketchum-based Wood River Community YMCA about 2.6 acres of the 5.8-acre city-owned Park and Ride lot, at the corner of Warm Springs and Saddle roads. The lease will be brought back to the table at the council's next meeting March 7.

Efforts by the YMCA group to raise $16 million to build a new 84,000-square-foot recreation center at the site are ongoing.

After substantial debate over the mayor's demand for independent financial review of the YMCA plan, the council overruled his veto, but conceded to Simon on the financial analysis by directing City Administrator Ron LeBlanc to look into the cost of performing a financial review.

In addition to ensuring that the YMCA project receives standard planning and zoning review without preferential treatment, Simon said at Tuesday's meeting that it is the city's "duty and obligation to thoroughly review the financial capabilities of the Y project."

"We have received proforma statements which set forth the anticipated revenues and expenditures of the YMCA project," Simon said. "The assumptions of these statements have not been independently analyzed by the City as to their viability. Executing a 99-year lease based on the information provided is nothing short of reckless and irresponsible."

YMCA board member Tom Praggastis said the proforma is the YMCA's estimate of financial information for the first year of operation and the following nine years.

"I know it's a big step for the city. It's a big step for us," Praggastis said, explaining that the organization spends a great deal of time crunching numbers to ensure the success of the project. "We look at those numbers week in and week out."

After some debate over the usefulness of an outside study to paint a clear picture of the potential success of the project, the council made their vote to overrule the mayor, but capitulated to his request to hire out for independent analysis.

"If we get a $16 million building and they fail, we'll have an awfully nice city hall," said City Councilman Baird Gourlay, bringing the house down in laughter. "I don't mind if we spend money to make the mayor more comfortable," he added.

"The benefit of that is you may have an opportunity to shut me up," Simon said.

The decision Tuesday brings the project one step closer to fruition, said YMCA Program Director Jason Fry.

The override was unanimous and the mayor was pleased to know some financial analysis is likely.

"We feel pretty optimistic that by March 7 we can have a signed lease," said Fry.

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