A proposed partnership between Gilbert and the YMCA may be the only way residents on the town’s still-developing south side will see a full-size recreation center for years to come.
The Gilbert Town Council has directed Town Manager George Pettit to work with the Valley of the Sun YMCA on a memorandum of understanding that would kick off more negotiations with the nonprofit organization.
But in essence, YMCA officials have told the town they need a five-acre site to get started.
Gilbert capital improvement plans already call for a new town recreation center similar in size to the Freestone Recreation Center, 1141 E. Guadalupe Road, at Hetchler Park, Queen Creek and Greenfield roads.
But the town is also expecting finances to grow tighter in coming years due to waning development fee income as Gilbert reaches residential buildout, and because expected sales tax generators such as the Santan Motorplex are developing more slowly than anticipated.
As municipal budgets tighten, nonessential projects such as recreation centers will likely take a back seat to public safety funding and new roads.
Vice Mayor Steve Urie said he favors working with the YMCA, but wants to move cautiously after the town’s recent experiences partnering with outside groups on other recreational venues such as Big League Dreams.
Big League Dreams, a facility featuring scaled-down replicas of famous major league baseball stadiums, is set to open next month at a total cost of $39 million — nearly double the $20 million initially estimated when the Town Council approved the joint project.
“At first blush, it’s ‘yes, we want to go out on a date,’ ” Urie said. “But the devil is in the details, and we’ll find out as we go along the way if this is a marriage we want.”
Gilbert YMCA members currently use the Chandler-Gilbert YMCA located east of Dobson and Frye roads.
Nearly 40 percent, or 900 members there, are Gilbert residents.
The Hetchler Park site would bring a recreation center to south Gilbert, which town officials have said lacks amenities and improved roads.
But without a primary property tax to cover operating costs, Gilbert will probably need an outside organization to operate any facility, Urie said.
“With that financial basis ... we’ve got to look at a different way to do it,” Urie said.
The Hetchler Park location would put a YMCA between the organization’s Chandler facility and its Copper Basin location in Pinal County. Valley of the Sun YMCA Vice President George Scobas said neither his organization nor most local municipalities can afford to build large recreational facilities without some form of partnership.
“I don’t think cities or YMCAs can purely go out and put facilities together anymore,” Scobas said. “It takes us a long time to raise money, and it takes cities a long time to bond for what they need to bond for.”
A new facility would take about two years to build, once the town and the YMCA reached an agreement, he said, adding that his organization supports the proposed location.
“We’ve always been interested in having a YMCA in Gilbert,” Scobas said.