The Virginia Supreme Court has struck down a lawsuit brought by two local gyms challenging the deal struck between the Piedmont YMCA and the city and county to build a new facility in McIntire Park.
YMCA CEO Denny Blank said he was in Richmond for the Thursday ruling.
“We’re ecstatic,” he said. “This is the best possible ruling that could have come down.” The vote was 5-1-1 in favor of dismissal, Blank said—there was one abstention. “The Supreme Court essentially said not only was [Albemarle Circuit Court Judge] Cheryl Higgins correct in her decision, it went one step forward to say they should never even have brought the case to her in the first place.”
ACAC and Gold’s Gym had argued that because the YMCA hammered out a deal in 2008 with the city and county to provide fitness memberships to residents at discounted rates in return for financial support—including a generous lease agreement—the exchange amounts to a procurement of services.
Thus, they argue, the municipalities should have done the same thing state law requires they do when seeking any other service for residents: they should have allowed anybody interested to submit a bid. Instead, said Edward Lowry, who is representing the clubs, the city and county structured their request for proposals so narrowly that only one entity qualified—the YMCA—and called their contributions gifts.
City and county attorneys defended their agreement with the YMCA before the Virginia Supreme Court early last summer after an appeal of the Circuit Court ruling. The state’s high court was expected to rule in early November, but that date was twice bumped. The delay—and the questions lobbed by one judge back in June—had Blank and others worried.
Justice Bill Mims, former Attorney General of Virginia, made it clear he was opposed to the YMCA agreement when the case was argued, said Blank. “We all went out with our tails between our legs thinking ‘We’ve lost this thing,’” he said. But Blank said Mims’ was the only minority opinion Thursday. “When it finally came down to it, it wasn’t even close,” he said.
Blank said his organization is happy to be able to focus on the project at hand now—and as the city approved the extension of the YMCA’s ground lease last month, at least one obstacle is out of the way. But he said he’s disappointed it was delayed four years. “It’s unfair what this delay has cost the city and county and the residents of this community in terms of money and time and aggravation,” he said.