The Town Council is looking for a private partner, or partners, to help bear the costs of renovations to the Morrisville Aquatics and Fitness Center.
Morrisville residents overwhelmingly approved a bond referendum in 2012 that included $5.7 million for parks and recreation projects. The town originally said about $4 million would go to the MAFC and about $1 million would go to Morrisville Community Park.
But after a consultant’s report showed even the most bare-bones improvements at the MAFC would cost about $6.5 million, the council members changed their focus to find additional sources of funding.
The main cost is a new pool area, complete with a traditional lap pool, as well as a kid’s pool with play areas, slides and more. More ambitious plans to rebuild the entire center would cost $16 or $17 million, according to the consultants.
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Mayor Mark Stohlman said at Tuesday’s council meeting that he wouldn’t be comfortable raising taxes yet again to pay for the additional costs of the MAFC work.
The bond, which also included $14.3 million for road work, has caused several property tax rate increases, including one likely to go into effect this July.
The MAFC typically loses about $250,000 a year, although revenue and the annual number of visitors have grown in the past several years, Town Manager Martha Wheelock said.
And even though the improvements being discussed likely wouldn’t pay for themselves in the immediate future, she said, a profit-making venture was never the point of the MAFC.
“It’s a community thing that you’ve chosen to fund, for quality of life,” Wheelock told the council.
Several council members began asking what could be done to make the renovations fit within the town’s budget, but Stohlman cut them off and suggested they look for private partnerships before discussing any scaled-back designs.
“Is there a partner out there willing to help us build this $16, $17 million facility? I don’t know,” he said. “We haven’t even asked.”
Even the smaller $6.5 million plan could use a partner, he said, because the town only has $5.7 million to spend on it at most.
“I’m optimistic,” Stohlman said. “I’m not the least bit worried about all these numbers. I think we can make it all happen.”
“I’m perfectly fine to go down that path, too,” added council member Kris Gardner.
Jeff Sherer, with Clark Patterson Lee Design Professionals, previously presented the plans and cost options to the council.
Tuesday, he said his group had helped the town of Huntersville, a Charlotte suburb, find three private partners for its town-owned fitness and aquatic center. Sherer said the process took about a year. Eventually, he said, Huntersville partnered with a local senior center, day care and health-care provider.
Jerry Brown, Morrisville’s parks and recreation director, said he already has some potential leads, including local swim teams. He said also is looking for grants.
He warned the council, though, that any partnership will mean giving up some amount of control.
“Any partner we bring to the table, they’re not going to give you the money for nothing,” Brown said. “They’re gonna need space, gonna need time.”
But the council quickly reached a consensus to move forward in finding one or more private companies to partner with.
Stohlman said if no good prospects turn up, they’ll start thinking about how to work with the money they already have.
Mayor Pro Tem Liz Johnson said she feels comfortable putting the $1 million Morrisville Community Park on the back burner and using the entire $5.7 million from the bond on the MAFC.
The town has opened most of the new Church Street Park and is in the early stages with another new park in northwest Morrisville.
“I think the public would understand if we hold back on the Morrisville Community park just a little bit,” she said.
Doran: 919-460-2604; Twitter: @will_doran
In other business
▪ The town council also heard an update on another bond-funded project, the extension of McCrimmon Parkway. Tony Chiotakis, the assistant town manager, said there have been some small obstacles and he would come back with a more detailed update in May or June. For now, he said, the plan is to start construction in late spring of 2016.
▪ Council member Steve Rao announced the entrepreneur incubation program called HOTTovation will start back up this spring. The program had been on hiatus in 2014. The incubator is hosted by the Morrisville Innovation Foundation, which Rao helped start, and provides participants with free space and mentors to begin building a business. Applications are due April 30.