Circuit Court Judge Cheryl Higgins dismissed a lawsuit filed against City Council by the Charlottesville Area Fitness Club Operators Association (CAFCOA) last week. While the ruling could clear the way for a long-awaited (and much contested) YMCA in McIntire Park, a pair of appeals could inhibit financing for the $15 million fitness facility.
County supervisors previously clashed over a $2 million funding commitment for the $15 million McIntire Park YMCA.
In November, Higgins threw out a similar suit brought by CAFCOA against Albemarle County. Both suits allege that local governments violated the Virginia Public Procurement Act and failed to seek competing bids for a fitness facility in the city’s largest public park. Albemarle County supervisors previously committed $2.03 million in funds to the YMCA, while Charlottesville councilors committed $1.25 million.
CAFCOA—whose members include ACAC, Gold’s Gym and Total Performance Sports and Fitness—has already filed an appeal in the Albemarle County case, and plans to do the same with the city. The group’s lawyer, Edward Lowry of MichieHamlett, said his clients were “obviously disappointed in both rulings, because we felt…that an open bidding process serves the residents of the county and the city best, because it allows both profits and nonprofits to compete.”
Filed last May, CAFCOA’s suit alleged that an advertisement in an October 2007 issue of the Daily Progress barred them from the bidding process. The lease, according to the advertisement, “is for the purpose of developing and operating a non-profit fitness and recreational center of approximately 70,000 square feet for the benefit of citizens of the City of Charlottesville.” Ultimately, the YMCA was the only entity to submit a bid.
“I cannot find [that] the purpose was to ensure that the city would only receive one bid,” said Judge Higgins, who ruled that the Public Procurement Act did not apply. “That may have been the practical outcome.” Higgins also stated that she didn’t believe the city tried to manipulate the procurement system. Kurt Krueger, chairman of the Piedmont Family YMCA, said the bidding process was “very transparent and fully inclusive.”
The ruling was celebrated by YMCA supporters who gathered in front of City Hall.
“This court decision today is a major victory for children and families of Charlottesville and Albemarle County,” said Mayor Dave Norris. “And, in particular, it’s a major victory for those children and families…who cannot afford the private gym memberships that are available in this community.”
CAFCOA members, however, said in a statement that they “respectfully disagree” with Higgins’ decision.
Krueger, who is also a partner at law firm McGuire Woods and has advised clients on the Public Procurement Act, tells C-VILLE that part of the financing for the facility is dependent upon the resolution of legal challenges.
“We have had discussions with a number of local banks who have expressed an interest in providing financing for us,” he says. “Each of those banks is concerned about the lawsuits and they are going to be concerned about the appeals.” Krueger adds that the YMCA board is considering a procedure that could expedite the appeals, but he remains tightlipped on the details.
The YMCA secured the ground lease for its McIntire Park facility in December 2007, at a rate of $1 per year for 40 years. Currently, drawings and designs for the facility are ready for bid, and the organization continues to raise funds privately. The lawsuits, says Krueger, “are the only things standing in the way of breaking ground and delivering this community the facility it desperately needs and richly deserves.”
Meanwhile, partnerships between the YMCA and local agencies are taking shape. Dr. M. Norman Oliver, director of the UVA Center on Health Disparities and a member of the YMCA board, says the YMCA has already had discussions with the UVA Emily Couric Clinical Cancer Center to offer rehabilitation programs for cancer survivors. “Everyone is on board and ready to go,” Oliver told C-VILLE. “We just need the facility.”