KINGSPORT — The owner of Gold Star Fitness has questioned and criticized Kingsport’s aquatic center project for years, with the most recent concern being what type of arrangement the city will have with Kingsport fitness centers and their use of the facility.
After meeting with city officials back in May about the issue, GSF owner Stan Pace said recently he will no longer be concerned with the aquatic center.
Kingsport’s aquatic center — currently under construction — is located behind the Cattails driving range off Wilcox Drive. The $26 million project includes a 50,000-square-foot indoor/outdoor aquatic facility, and adjacent to it, the new YMCA Wellmont Center. The YMCA will operate the facility for the city.
Pace, owner of Gold Star Fitness and the Club at Ridgefields, sent an e-mail to City Manager John Campbell earlier this year requesting a meeting to discuss what arrangement the city would have with local fitness centers to where their members would have access to the aquatic center. During the buildup on the project, Campbell had said the city would be willing to do that.
A meeting took place in May, and according to Pace and city officials who attended, Mayor Dennis Phillips offered GSF the same membership deal the city is offering the YMCA. Under the management agreement, the YMCA will give the city 10 percent of its revenues from membership fees, and YMCA members will have full access to the aquatic center.
Pace said he appreciates Phillips making the effort to come up with something similar, but he said the deal is not equivalent or feasible for GSF.
“GSF pays property and other taxes that the YMCA doesn’t. The YMCA campaigns for charitable donations that they utilize to pay for their equipment and services that GSF does not have that luxury,” Pace said. “There are many other benefits that the YMCA will enjoy as the city chose to partner with them in this project.”
Four years ago when the aquatic center project first got under way, city officials publicly talked about the idea of the YMCA co-locating its new facility with the aquatic center and for the YMCA to manage the facility for the city.
GSF and Great Body Company representatives objected to co-location, saying it gave the YMCA an unfair advantage. Since then, GBC has moved past worrying about the co-location issue. Today it appears Pace has come to the same conclusion.
“The aquatic center issue is not something my time will be concerned with any longer,” Pace said. “During the past I have made it clear I feel it is inappropriate and not wise for the city to partner with competing entities within the city. However, the current city leaders have chosen their path.”
Former Alderman Dave Clark also attended the May meeting with city officials, at the request of Pace.
“Stan and I have been friends, and we talk about the business,” Clark said. “As a small business person, I have some concerns with the aquatic center, less to do with who it’s competing with and more with the fact the thing is going to be a not-so-good financial investment for the city.”
When Kingsport officials first started talking about replacing Legion Pool with a new facility nearly five years ago, the original price tag for the project was $12.6 million. However, the bids on the project came in $3 million more than expected, and the scope has increased as well.
Today, Kingsport’s portion of the project comes in at more than $19 million.
“We have forgotten the fact that this was a $15 million project, and now it’s $20 million. Somehow we in the community have let that one pass,” Clark said. “I’m not opposed to the city doing projects. But if you’re doing things in the public interest, there needs to be a real clear idea of what (the cost) is going to be.”
City officials have estimated the indoor facility being completed in the winter of 2013, with the outdoor facility being completed in the summer of 2013.