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Gymnastics club decision passes by razor-thin vote

Posted on March 19, 2014 by Taber Times

Slipping past the post by a meagre 4-3 vote, town council agreed to purchase property and enter into a lease agreement with the Taber Gymnastics Fitness Club (TGFC) for development of a new gymnastics facility.

Disregarding a recommended motion by administration that the TGFC maintain ownership of their lot and the proposed building, at their March 10 meeting town council passed a motion that the Town of Taber purchase the TGFC property (5336 48th Avenue) for their purchase price of $100,000, with funds to be allocated from the capital reserve, and enter into a five-year renewable lease with the TGFC for $1, with the lease agreement to be structured similar to that of the Taber Golf Club.

Coun.(s) Joe Strojwas, Andrew Prokop, Jack Brewin and Mayor Henk De Vlieger voted in favour of the motion. Coun.(s) Randy Sparks, Rick Popadynetz and Laura Ross-Giroux were opposed.

At a previous meeting, town council had already agreed to lend the TGFC funds to help with development of a gymnastics-specific facility in downtown Taber, and to work with the club to formulate an appropriate loan agreement.

“The Taber Gymnastics Fitness Club has met with administration and talked about the ownership of the facility. We strongly recommend to administration that the town purchase the two lots that we currently own at fair market value,” said Danielle Hansen, representing the TGFC as a delegation earlier in the meeting.

“We will be applying for a CFIP grant, whether we get it or not, the funds from the purchase of the two lots will help lesson the risk on the gymnastics club. We want this facility to be a community facility, we don’t want it recognized by the community as an exclusive facility just for the Taber Gymnastics Fitness Club.”

Hansen outlined why the TGFC felt it to be in the club’s best interests to request that the town take ownership of the proposed facility and the lot moving forward.

“The club wants to set up a lease agreement with the town, similar to the same kind of agreement they have with the golf course. We want to operate, upgrade, and maintain our facility. We believe the community as a whole will benefit from this, not just the Taber Gymnastics Fitness Club. The facility would also benefit downtown businesses, that will see a lot of foot traffic. We believe it’s going to be an asset to our community, and not just to Taber Gymnastics Fitness Club.”  

Coun. Randy Sparks was supportive of loaning the TGFC the requisite funds to construct the facility, but stopped short of suggesting the town take over the lot and proposed building.

“I remember the first time you came before council as a delegation, you were very willing to have the town secure financing and a loan so that you could have this facility. And now you’re wanting the town to buy the two lots that you own presently. I for one don’t believe the town should step into an agreement such as this. I can see this opening a door that will have lots of people coming and wanting the same kind of deal. I could certainly support the town loaning you money, with you putting up the lot that you have and the building as collateral.”

Coun. Sparks went on to note the Town of Taber should not be involved in the operation of a sports club.

“You have a lot, you want to put up a building. I support your previous things you had going 100 per cent, because I do believe we need to have this facility. But is the Town of Taber in the business of running a gymnastics club? No we’re not. I can support you ladies 100 per cent if you stay with the way it used to be. Loan, you maintain ownership of the building and the land, if you default on your loan, then it’s the town’s. And that’s the way I can support it. But for the town to start going buying lots so people can put buildings on, and have a club setting, I just can’t support it.”

Another representative of the TGFC, Tara Coney, indicated the club had looked at the way the Taber Golf Club operates on land leased from the town, and found this to be an attractive possibility.

“I think upon talking about it, we really like the idea the way the golf course runs. The town owns that, and this is a community sport, and a community building. We want to totally get away from the idea of people considering that it is a private club. So we felt like having the town own the lot would put that to rest. And really, the town has set that precedent with all of the other sports, with the golf club they’re not in the practice of running a golf course either. We’re not wanting the town to own the gymnastics club or have anything to do with the daily running, that hasn’t changed.”

Responding to the delegation, Coun. Joe Strojwas was fully in support of the TGFC’s suggested method of moving forward.

“It’s simply amazing that you ladies have all of this fortitude to keep fighting, and fighting for something that you believe, you are to be commended. It is a real great program that gets kids off the streets, it puts them into an athletic environment, they’re not sitting on their computers at home, or texting, or watching movies. They are to be commended for the amount of work they do in getting children involved in an athletic sport, and this project needs council’s wholehearted support.”

Later in the meeting during discussion prior to a vote on the TGFC funding request, CAO Greg Birch outlined why administration would prefer the club maintain ownership of the lots and the proposed facility.

“Administration is not entirely in favour of owning the land and the building. We’re just kind of wondering what the benefit to the town would be. It would be a town-owned facility, but it would be actually bought and paid for by another group,” said Birch. “It has the odd issue of the construction element. You don’t want ownership too fast, because ideally the gymnastics club would want to undertake construction with their own best deal. If we take ownership, we probably have to jump through some hoops — and I think we can work around that — the question of who’s contracting, who is supervising construction. We don’t want to be managing construction. Ultimately, in 20 or 30 years when the roof needs to be replaced, who is paying for that? Is it our building? Is it their building? There’s just some oddities there that would suggest that it’s better left with that group.”

In discussion following the tabling of his motion, Coun. Strojwas defended his position, suggesting real movement was needed on the issue.

“The reasoning behind this here is these folks need to get on and get something done. The Taber Golf Club operate independently, they look after their own property out there. They’ve got direction, they’ve got focus. These ladies are obviously very focused, because they were jumping those hurdles 30 years ago, and they’re still jumping through the same hurdles. Their objective 10 years ago already was to have a facility on town-owned property. Unfortunately they got turned aside, and never did get anywhere with this.”

Coun. Sparks was adamant that the best course of action would still be to allow the club to move forward on their own with a town loan, rather than taking public ownership of the project.

“Who pays for the environmental study on this lot? Who pays for the hook-up to sanitary on the south end of this lot? What is fair market price for this lot? These are all things we need to take into consideration. I would hope that these ladies want ownership, so they can be involved with the construction right from the sod-turning right to the end of it. If the town is involved with this maybe the facility might not be the same as they envision. I would love to see this facility go, but I prefer to have them maintain ownership through the entire process.”

Serious fiscal concerns would be a looming consequence of opening up the public coffers too readily for every project that came before council, according to Coun. Laura Ross-Giroux.

“I also have concerns. This is the second time that a group has given one presentation and then has come back and changed their presentation looking for money. We did not budget for this. We also have two other groups now  with the spray park and the arts centre looking for funding, so I hate to favour one group over another. We have a lot on our plate right now — I support the club in the loan, and I’d like it to stay that way. We just can’t keep having these groups coming back time and time again whenever things change a bit. We don’t have that kind of money to this, we want to keep taxes low. How do we achieve that by meeting all the funding requests that come to us?”

Coun. Rick Popadynetz was all too wary of the precedent that might be set by choosing the path suggested by Coun. Strojwas’ motion.

“I’d like to see a P3 (public-private partnership) program, some sort of provincial-public-private endeavour here. I also don’t want to set a precedence for all of the clubs in our town. I think you guys do a great job in gymnastics, but what if soccer comes to and says you guys did it for the gymnastics club, why can’t we can an indoor soccer facility? We’re going to set a precedent if we make this motion.”

Mayor Henk De Vlieger viewed the issue as one of partnership with the TGFC moving forward, and presented the risk to the town in constructing the facility as “low”.

“What I like about the idea is the town owns the land. I think it’s a partnership, if we lease the land to them for a $1, eventually the building would be the town’s, because it sits on town land. It just gives the gymnastics club more freedom to construct a building. All of the mechanical details, who is going to take care of the maintenance down the road, I’m sure that can all be dealt with. Fitness and gymnastics is important for health, and i’d like to see this town progress. I think the risk that the town takes in building a structure like that is low. I think it’s a responsible way of doing it, and I think it also ensures that the gymnastics club always stays open for everybody, and doesn’t become a private club.”

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