Bainbridge parks voted last week to begin the process of buying the Bainbridge Athletic Club for $13 million.
The main concern during public comments came from current club members. Tennis players worried with more people from the public using the club their court time would be diminished, adding it’s already hard to get playing time. Overall, club members were concerned that if the club becomes public the overall quality would lessen. Many said they like the club as it is and don’t want any changes.
To which Dawn Janow, park board chair, responded the club is being sold, and there likely would be changes no matter who bought it. She emphasized the sale is not done, and public input is being sought.
“There are going to be many changes,” Bainbridge Island Metropolitan Parks and Recreation District executive director Terry Lande said. We won’t know what they all are “until we get into the building and see what’s going on. We haven’t had an opportunity to do that.”
Some during public comments were concerned about the cost. But Lande said it’s a lot better than the up to $70 million it would have cost to build a similar facility at Sakai Park. Plus, the facility is available now, instead of having to wait up to seven years to have one built.
Lande added that taxes would not be raised to buy the facility. Bonds would be paid back through user fees. They hope to close on the BAC by Aug. 31.
He said the parks district is following through with what the public wanted during an extensive outreach a few years ago when deciding what to do at Sakai Park. About half of the respondents said then they wanted an indoor facility.
Some during public comments said Sakai is the location where the public wanted the facility – closer to town than miles away near Meadowmeer Golf Course. But Lande said the price is too good to ignore and now other things can happen at Sakai. He said many people wanted Sakai to remain in a more natural state, rather than be paved over.
“This allows less-intensive uses at Sakai,” Lande said.
Many of the 116 people attending online through Zoom June 17 spoke.
Peter Benson said he has no problem with public ownership of the club, but he is concerned about parking. He lives near the area and says already people park all over the place due to a lack of spaces. “It’s packed to the gills,” he said, adding a two-lane road sometimes becomes one land with people parking along the side. With more usage, it will only get worse. He said BAC controls that by limiting memberships.
Lande said parks will work with neighbors to figure that out. Spreading out the scheduling of programs could help fix that issue, he added.
David Chichester wanted more information about financing, but Lande said because of a non-disclosure agreement they can’t discuss that. Another commenter said that should be public information. To which Lande responded it will all be looked at closely over the next two months by professionals.
Parks board member Jay Kinney said money is an important issue for the parks board, too. “We don’t plan to subsidize this like the pool,” he said of the Aquatic Center.
Edith Cobourn asked if parks would charge separate fees for everything like it does now or will there be memberships like the club has? “We don’t know what our structure will be yet,” Lande said.
Tom Goodlin said the $70 million figure mentioned was not a fair comparison because that was for nine buildings at Sakai. He also said the district needs to make sure while evaluating the purchase that the facility will pay for itself. On the other hand, he said, “It’s exciting. I understand the enthusiasm.”
In regard to tennis, Dinah Satterwhite said there are other places other recreation can be offered but this is the only option for indoor tennis. Don’t “pull the rug out from under us.”
Lande said parks will take into consideration all things currently happening at the club, and they have to see how things are run before making any changes.
Loanne Harmeling said the island needs more tennis courts so she hopes more are developed at Sakai. “People downtown need parks. That’s pivotal,” she said.
Julie Riely also complained about the lack of tennis courts, but added, “This is an amazing opportunity for the general public.”
Janow and Kinney responded to a complaint about nothing being done at Sakai Park, except for some small trails that took two years to build.
Janow said the trails took so long because of the state permitting process.
“We bought Sakai to preserve the last green space near downtown,” Kinney said, adding now the community can decide what to do with it since the amentities it wanted before will now be available elsewhere.
Janow added people wanted mountain bike trails at Sakai, too, but now those will be available at Strawberry Hill Park.
A basketball coach, Dennis Kowren, said it’s hard to book court time for his team now because parks and rec has priority at the school gyms. Now they also would have priority at the PAC. “It’s just another facility for parks and rec to have priority,” he said. He added if the gym is filled with classes there will be no place for kids to work on their game or adults to play pickup basketball either.
Kinney said he wants kids to have a place to play. “It’s a community center. We’re going to listen to the community on how to use it to meet as many needs as we can.”
Doug Mackey said he doesn’t see the positive in parks buying it because it doesn’t add anything new. “The community already has it; they can already join.”
Sarah Lee disagreed, saying it’s too expensive for many people. With parks buying it, that solves an important equity issue. “It’s a fantastic idea,” she said.
Lande said it would become a community center, not a private club, so more people from the public will have access. “It’s a huge improvement over what we currently have,” he said. Parks has had to rent school facilities in many different locations for its programs. Now, most of its indoor programs will be in one area.
Michael Rosenthal expressed concern for privately owned fitness centers, of which there are 20 on the island, he said. He added they need to make a profit to survive, so he hopes parks takes that into consideration when setting its fees. “It’s not … an even playing field” since parks is a nonprofit, he said.
Marie Figgins asked if current employees would be kept on. “It’s good to know if you have a job or not,” she said. “It’s a well-run machine. All the members love the club. More community access is great but I’d hate to lose what we currently have.”
Lande said there will be a process for workers to be rehired.
Kerry Smith, who joined the club when it first started 17 years ago, said, “You all still have a lot of exploration to do.”
Sundance Rogers said, “This is an incredible opportunity, and I hope you guys go forward with it.”
Board member Tom Swolgaard said the district will be looking “into all these issues that were brought up.”
Kinney said the community is getting a great deal.
“It’s a good financial move if we ever want to have something like this,” he said. “You can’t build something like this for that price. We’re doing this for the community. We’ll pencil it out and figure out how to run the place.”
5 3/4 acres; 53,000 square feet; four tennis courts; basketball, volleyball and pickleball gym; multipurpose rooms; three lap lanes and open outdoor swimming pool; fitness, strength and cardio rooms; reception desk; concessions; lobby with fireplace and wide-screen TV; lockers; spin bikes; free weights; rowing, treadmills, stairclimbers, illiptical machines and more.
Potential opportunities: increase community access, expand fitness and recreation programs; indoor activity spaces allow year-around rec programming; no limited times because of availability of school gyms and facilities.
Individual: $199 joining fee plus tennis is $137 a month, and fitness $72 month.
Family: $499 joining fee plus $237 a month for tennis, $170 a month for fitness