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At critical time for Gig Harbor sports complex, rumbles of dispute on city council

A disagreement has emerged between some members of the Gig Harbor City Council and the YMCA over who will pay for a large part of the projected Gig Harbor Sports Complex.

So far, the dispute is polite and does not appear to imperil to project, which is up for an important procedural vote next Monday.

Under a master plan agreed with the city in 2018, the Gig Harbor YMCA has agreed to raise $6.8 million for the first phase of the project, which includes two lighted turf fields, 100 parking spaces, a restroom, and a concession structure.

But some council members have made it clear they are unhappy about being asked to pay $1.9 million for the second phase of the complex, which would add a playground, and event lawn, a bocce ball court, a pickle ball court, trails, picnic shelters, and additional parking.

The sports complex, long sought by Gig Harbor youth and sports groups, is to be built north of the YMCA at 10550 Harbor Hill Dr. The site is west of Harbor Hill Drive and generally southeast of Costco. Construction would be started in 2020.

The two halves of the project are referred to in planning jargon as phases “1A and 1B.”

During a council meeting last week, council member Bob Himes said that cost of Phase 1B is a “great heartburn” for him. He said he feels strongly that the second-phase amenities will be used more often than the first, and the YMCA and the city need to come up with a better solution for funding.

“I think it’s a deal-breaker right from the get-go,” Himes said. “We’ve got a problem and I don’t want to bury it. Something needs to be resolved.”

Under a master plan approved by council on July 23, 2018, the city would grant the YMCA a ground lease of 35 years with three twenty-year options for $1 a year. In return, the YMCA would design, construct, own and operate the complex, and raise $6.8 million for Phase 1A.

Phase 1B, however is “funding-dependent” — meaning the city will have to find the money to pay for it. Some on the council feel the YWCA should chip in for that, too.

But Charlie Davis, the president and CEO of YMCA Pierce and Kitsap Counties, told the council last week that “1A has been our major commitment. That’s a lot of lifting for us.”

“We initially thought it would be $4 million,” he added, “but construction costs are going through the roof.”

The disagreement comes at a critical juncture for the project, because the council must approve matching funds for a state grant of $350,000 on Monday, Oct. 14, or lose it.

Council member Michael Perrow said the city is already getting a great deal from the YMCA, and if the council plays its cards wrong, the city could lose the partnership, resulting in the land going fallow.

“We are getting a lot and if we are turning our back on the $6.8 million because of a playground, then we will have egg on our face,” Perrow said.

Mayor Kit Kuhn said he is confident in the partnership between the city and the YMCA, and believes they will overcome the sticky situation.

He said it would be a “hard sell” to the city to come up with a couple million dollars to fund for Phase 1B, because site preparation will also be a cost.

Kuhn suggested during the meeting that the city could help pay for the water, sewer, and permits if the YMCA would contribute to 1B.

Davis said that could be a possibility but he was not prepared to negotiate that night.

“If we can’t get help with 1B, we’ll almost have to pull the water, the sewer, and the permits out so we can pay for that 1B site to get ready,” Kuhn said.

The mayor said he just wants to ensure a win-win is agreed upon.

Council Member Spencer Hutchins said there is already a ‘super, quadruple win,’ since the YMCA has already agreed to pay for phase 1A of the sports complex.

“If someone comes up and says “let me buy you a house,” and I respond ‘I’m also interested in a car,’ that doesn’t feel right to me,” Hutchins said.

Hutchins believes Gig Harbor can figure out a way to pay for phase 1B of the project.

“We can’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good, and in this case the good is pretty dang close to perfect,” Hutchins said.

Council Member Spencer Alberold said the council needs to focus on 1A, the first part of the project.

“The citizens want lighted, turf fields,” he said. “It was the primary need of this community as far as youth activity. I want 1B to happen, but we need to focus on 1A and we have a partnership with people who are willing to do it.”

Davis of the YMCA also urged the council to focus first on the first phase.

“It’s a serious amount of money. We are prepared to take that on but we need everyone’s cooperation,” Davis said. “If we are focused on 1B that will distract the effort, and I think we need everyone to lean in on this just because of our limited resources.”

On Oct. 14 the council will have to meet a deadline to accept a $350,000 Youth Athletic Facility grant from the state, which requires matching funds of $3.5 million be certified.

The grant and its match, totaling $3.85 million, will pay for initial architecture and engineering, site preparation, power, parking, permits and construction of a restroom.

The certification is the approved Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the YMCA, a template of a lease for the Gig Harbor Sports Complex Master Plan. This means that on Oct. 14 the council will also need to approve the MOU.

A motion to move forward with the MOU for Phase 1A was passed 4-3.

For more information on the Gig Harbor Sports Complex Master Plan, visit https://www.cityofgigharbor.net/CivicAlerts.aspx?AID=220.

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