The owner of the Bainbridge Athletic Club is disappointed that a local group is trying to get in the way of its sale to the Bainbridge parks district.
Shelly Stockman said the sale is a good deal for BI. “I left money on the table,” she said last Friday. To those who say BI parks is overpaying she said, “I’m insulted by that.”
Stockman said she has been approached by commercial interests to buy the BAC, but they wanted to tear down the tennis courts or make other major changes, such as eliminate jobs. “We didn’t want to see that go. We have something great, and we want to keep it,” she said.
Stockman said she is disappointed some BAC members have been the loudest in opposition to the sale. She understands they like the private club atmosphere, but no matter who she sells to it’s going to be different. “It’s better than losing the amenity altogether, keep this asset on the island,” she said, adding she thinks some opponents are hoping the deal with parks falls through so they can buy it and keep it private.
When she approached parks executive director Terry Lande he said BAC would be perfect because it can be used right away. Also, many people didn’t want to see buildings at Sakai Park, which is another option.
Stockman said taxpayers won’t have to worry about BAC becoming a burden to them. “It’s going to run at a surplus,” she said, adding if she has to sell to a private entity things could be “much worse. But it won’t be by my hands that it will happen.”
The Seattle law firm Brickland and Newman is representing the local group, called Save Sakai Community and Sports Center. Friday the firm sent a letter to Lande and to BI Metro Parks & Rec District commissioners.
Dawn Janow, chair of the commission, wrote a response to the letter for the parks district.
”We are confident that the new recreational facility will meet the needs of those residents who desire an indoor facility immediately, it will not cost the taxpayers additional funds and will provide flexibility in the options we can consider at Sakai,” Janow writes. “The park district board, which is obligated to be responsive to community input, maximize recreational offerings, and be a good steward of public funds, feels that it would be irresponsible not to seize this unique and wonderful opportunity for the community.”
Brickland and Newman’s letter states the district has not been transparent about the purchase, only letting the public know June 17, the day the district signed the purchase and sale agreement. “Since then the district has provided incomplete and contradictory information about nearly every aspect of the proposed acquisition,” the letter states.
Initially, the district said the transaction would be funded by revenue bonds repaid by user fees. Then it said it would be funded by a private bank loan. Now it wants to issue general obligation bonds that the public would have to repay.
Janow says that won’t happen. “The district, with the assistance of its highly experienced appraiser, has analyzed the business and is confident that revenue will more than cover the costs of operating, maintaining and paying for BAC. User fees will cover the cost of owning and operating the facility, and the public will not have to subsidize the purchase.”
The letter from the lawyers also questions the appraisal process. They weren’t done until about three weeks after signing the purchase and sale agreement. The appraisals contain few details and “oddly concludes that the business itself is worth exactly what the district previously agreed to pay.”
“At best, this appraisal shows that the district is paying $1 million too much… At worst it represents and potentially contrived attempt to justify the exact purchase price agreed to by the district…”
The Brickland and Newman letter also states that the district apparently has abandoned plans for an indoor facility at Sakai in favor of BAC, which is far from the island’s main activity center, with little or no public input. The letter goes on to say it’s not too late to correct the problems. The district should establish a citizen advisory committee.
Janow says nothing could be further from the truth. BAC will supplement whatever is built at Sakai. The community can still build whatever it wants there. That project actually will have more flexibility now.
To set the record straight, Janow asks folks to recall that in 2015 voters passed a $5.9 million bond to purchase Sakai as a park so it would not be developed. It was sometime after that that a community survey was done. Inside recreation was just one of the Top 10 wishes for that park in the survey.
COVID-19 delayed planning for Sakai. But estimated costs of indoor recreation there neared $55 million. That also would require passage of a public vote for a bond to increase taxes.
And while that would take years to build, BAC is available now at “a fraction of the cost of building a similar structure at Sakai and increases public access to indoor facilities, which currently exists only for a select few,” Janow’s letter states.
Overall, the letter from Brickland and Newman says more time is needed to release information, digest it, consider advice of the committee, create a well-thought-out financing plan, consider the impacts on Sakai and obtain public input.
It also cites legal precedent that the district does not have the authority to spend nearly $4 million on purchasing the business, good will and other intangible property, making the deal void. It can only buy the buildings and land, it says.
“In this transaction, only the private seller benefits. The public does not,” the letter states, adding it is an “unconstitutional gift of public funds.”
“This is simply too big of a decision to make on a hasty timeline without public involvement,” the letter concludes.