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Staff recommends parks cash for Boys & Girls Club

Submitted by on 1, October 6, 2009 – 6:00 am3 Comments

buildingThe City Council is set tonight to consider a staff recommendation that they spend $2 million of their Measure WW regional park bond money to help build a new Boys & Girls Club facility on the city’s West End. But the recommendation comes with a surprise twist: The club has to pay back half the money in five years.

The club’s leaders have said they need the money to meet their anticipated $8.2 million construction bill, and that they risk losing grants they’ve won if they don’t get it right away.

George Phillips, the Boys & Girls Club’s executive director, said he’s happy with the recommendation. “We’re very pleased the City Manager recommended the arrangement she recommended,” Phillips said. “We’re amenable to do it and to get ready to build.”

He said he hopes to raise the $1 million the club will owe the city through fundraising. The budget he submitted to the city shows the club’s leaders expect to pull in a $500,000 grant and $500,000 in donations over the next 24 months.

But park and open space advocates said they still oppose the idea of giving the money to the club. They say the money should be used for city-owned facilities.

“If they do give this money to the Boys and Girls Club, I will go to the East Bay (Regional) Park (District) to say I will campaign against future bonds,” open space advocate Jean Sweeney said. The East Bay Park District is managing the bond funds.

“They have a lot of critical things that have to be done and the money has to come from somewhere,” Sweeney added.

Dozens of people signed petitions supporting money for items that had already been on the city’s list, including resurfacing of tennis and basketball courts at Washington Park and rehab of the Littlejohn Park Recreation Center. The city also got petitions from supporters of an Estuary Park on the former Alameda Belt Line property and a hoped-for park on the northern waterfront.

The city’s Recreation and Park Commission, which recommended the original list to the council, wrote a letter to the council to oppose the use of the funds to help build the Boys and Girls Club. The commission was scheduled to meet Monday night to discuss the new plan.

Meanwhile, Recreation, Parks and Golf Director Dale Lillard sent the council newly prioritized lists of projects for use of the money (page 28 of this council packet). (Replacement of the play area at Tillman Park tops the new list, with the Washington Park courts at #2, Littlejohn Park rec center at#4 and Woodstock off the list entirely.)

One list spends all of the city’s $3.4 million in park bond money, while the other leaves $1 million for other things. The Boys and Girls Club is not on either list.

A draft copy of a use agreement that will need to be signed by the club and the city would give the city first dibs on the club’s land lease if it can’t continue to operate. The club has a 99-year lease for its land from Alameda Unified, at a rate of $1 a year.

If signed, the draft agreement would also require the city to pay maintenance and utility costs associated with its use of the facility. The city would continue to operate adjacent Woodstock Park.

The term of the agreement would be 25 years.

The rest of the $8.2 million for the club project would come from grants and pledges ($3.8 million), club cash ($1.3 million) and a $990,000 construction loan from the Bank of Alameda.

The club’s leaders had hoped to start construction in January and open the doors to their new, 25,000-square-foot facility as early as this month. But facing a sour economy, they were unable to raise the rest of the money they needed to get started.

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