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City Desk: Nov 19, 2014

New Swim Center Takes First Step To Realization

At the Nov.18 meeting, the Santa Clara City Council approved the first step toward replacing the aging George Haines International Swim Center (ISC) by approving a design contract with Berkeley-based ELS Architecture and Urban Design (www.elsarch.com). ELS has been working with the city and Santa Clara aquatics clubs for two years on a new design. The swim center is one of the city’s most heavily used recreation facilities; open year-round from 5 a.m. to 9 p.m.

Rebuilding the ISC has been a Council goal for years. Money was appropriated for it almost a decade ago. However, $13.5 million of it was used to build the Senior Center and its two indoor pools, leaving $1.4 million in the fund.

In 2013, Santa Clara Swim Club and local aquatics clubs launched a capital campaign to privately raise money to rebuild the ISC. At the same time, another ad-hoc committee launched discussions with the International Swim Hall of Fame (ISHOF) about bringing the swimming museum to Santa Clara; eventually signing a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) and launching its own fund-raising effort.

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The new concept that was introduced at a June 24, 2014 Santa Clara City Council study session moves the ISC to Kiely Boulevard on current Community Recreation Center (CRC) parking lots; freeing up three acres for parkland. Kiely provides easy access – both by car and for pedestrians, and the entrance will have a “grand boulevard” feel. The plan includes both the ISC and the ISHOF. The city is in negotiations with ISHOF for a term sheet, and the agreement would include a temporary location while the new ISC complex is under construction.

The ultramodern design is intended to be an eye-catching attraction to draw high-profile events. It features a circular “water pavilion” seating 1,800, conventional competition stadium pool seating 3,800, and third pool for practice and training. The design, said Park and Recreation Director Jim Teixeira, aims to accommodate all uses from recreation to professional competition.

The layout connects the Swim Center with the Community Recreation Center (CRC) – which will be renovated – and adds a gymnasium and a parking structure. The current CRC theater would stay.

Rebuilding the ISC isn’t just about civic ego. Being able to once again host the most prestigious aquatic events would bring hard cash into the city – estimates are $8 to $10 million annually. Plus a world-class attraction that actually looks like one would be a draw for high profile events bringing revenue into the city – think 2024 Summer Olympics – and offset operating costs.

Currently, about 25 percent of the ISC’s operating costs – $840,000 – are covered by revenue, according to the June agenda report. By comparison, other similar aquatics centers in California cover 40 to 70 percent of their costs.

ISC operating costs have grown over 30 percent since 2010, while revenue has been flat. Maintenance and repair costs have increased by about $100,000 (135 percent) Some of that has been donated by groups that use the Center. By comparison, personnel cost increases have been negligible.

But there is also one big challenge facing the proposed rebuild: Money. Lack of capital has stalled a rebuild for almost a decade.

Past estimates of the cost of rebuilding the ISC at its current location have been $40 to $60 million, and the current study will provide estimates for the new design. Regardless of what the final number is, a capital campaign will be part of the picture. At the Nov. 7 Council study session, City Manager Julio Fuentes noted that there may be additional money available from “boomerang” RDA revenue.* Santa Clara Swim Club has said that they’re confident they can raise money for the project.

The new center must also have a solid business plan for its operations – the June report estimated the new center would cost $2.5 million to operate, but the City could only expect to recover about $600,000 of that directly. Thus, sponsors will almost certainly be part of the plan.

The existing ISC cost slightly under $1 million to build in 1966.

166 Saratoga Decision Postponed to Dec. 9

The decision about a proposed development project at 166 Saratoga for 33 townhouses on a 1.73-acre lot was postponed to Dec. 9. The Historical and Landmarks Commission recommended approval, with a recommendation to provide as much open space as possible in order to preserve the remnant orchard that is currently a part of the property. The Planning Commission couldn’t reach a consensus about the project, and sent it to the Council with no recommendation.

Other Council Actions

  • The five percent increase in electric rate, introduced at the Nov. 7 study session, was approved.
  • Traffic signal improvements are planned for Saratoga Avenue from Scott to Stevens Creek to relieve some of the cut down the delays and backups that plague Saratoga.
  • There is now a unified and illustrated version of the City’s residential development design guidelines.

Requiescat in Pace

Last week’s meeting was adjourned in memory of longtime Santa Claran and former Santa Clara Unified school board member, Ray Edinger. A veteran of both WWII and the Korean War, Edinger was a generous, hard-working and dedicated part of the community for over half a century. In 2013 he made the single largest donation ever made to the Santa Clara City Library in memory of his wife of 73 years, Margie Edinger.

* “Boomerang” funds refer to property tax income that would have gone to the former Santa Clara RDA that now goes to the county and is distributed to the various “taxing entities.” One of them is the City of Santa Clara – which gets about 20 percent of property taxes – so the money “boomerangs” back.

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