GUEST OPINION: Pooling for a Crystal public-private-partnership (3P)
BY Bill Currie
Crystal Pool and the downtown YM-YWCA may be a couple of kilometres apart, but they are closer than you think.
Both have been beacons of healthy living for decades, building strong citizens, both in body and mind. Each molding the energy of the Capital Region into strong communities.
But now, both are tired and out of shape. Both are in need of a make-over from the ground up.
The irony is that while they stand for good health, their own health is in such poor condition that they are in dire need of a fitness plan. And yes, they both know it and are looking at ways to turn their respective health around.
The City of Victoria has voted to rebuild Crystal Pool, at a projected cost of $69.4-million. It’s a costly endeavour at a time when labour is extremely expensive and the City is shouldering many large construction projects at the same time. The question cannot be ignored, can we afford a new Crystal Pool at this time?
Down the street, the YM-YWCA is starting to talk openly about what is next for its facility. In its recent newsletter, its members learned that the board is “considering its options” about how to make its downtown facility “relevant,” now that it has a first class facility on the West Shore.
The YM-YWCA Westhills cost $30-million, less than half of what Victoria projects the cost of a new Crystal Pool. And the reason is simple. The Y partnered with The City of Langford and Westhills Land Corporation.
Westhills built the facility, Langford committed to buying services and offering tax breaks, and the Y runs it. It’s an example of how a public-private-partnership (3p) creates affordable services. Today it houses a public library, a satellite studio of the Victoria Conservatory of Music, and is the centre of a vibrant community.
So why doesn’t the City of Victoria and the YM-YWCA pool their resources together and partner with a local developer to build a world class fitness centre with all the bells and whistles? Yes, perhaps even an Olympic size swimming pool. And while they are at it, throw in a library, a little retail and some housing to make it a first class destination.
The City of Victoria owns the land on Quadra Street which would continue to be a good location for a fitness centre. While on Broughton Street, “the (YM-YWCA) board believes that it is prudent now to formally explore the strong real estate market.” The final piece of the puzzle would be the private sector, which the Y is already “seek(ing) out innovative partnerships and redevelopment opportunities.”
But unfortunately, a public-private-partnership was shot down after Victoria City councillors passed a resolution in 2013. They wanted Crystal Pool to remain in public hands. According to the Times Colonist, some discussion between the Y and the City preceded the resolution. That was four years ago and a previous administration.
A lot of water has run under the bridge since then, such as the escalating cost of the Blue Bridge. Also a new sewage plant has been given the green light since that vote. If a new fitness centre is important in a red-hot construction market, then it is time to vote again, and vote smarter. Stop over burdening the taxpayer!
Sure the devil is still in the details, but that’s no reason to shy away from an opportunity where two groups are essentially doing the same thing. A 3p approach could create a world class fitness centre servicing this community for the next 50 years.
Obviously, the issue of municipal union jobs is always on the table when a city decides to partner with a private company. But it takes courage to do the right thing for the taxpayer. And Langford has shown us what courage, and doing the right thing, is all about.
What Victoria needs more of, is a “culture of willingness” to find creative ways to finance services. We have to capitalize on opportunities that present themselves. We have to be flexible. We have thousands of people moving here every year with no sign of that slowing down. So we need to be smarter and work together while building an affordable and healthy place to live.
Bill Currie is a freelance writer based in Victoria who has worked for CBC TV and and Shaw-TV for 30 years. He’s also a member of the board advisory committee for Grumpy Taxpayer$.
Crystal Pool (Taxpayers will either sink or swim with a new Crystal Pool), Column by Grumpy Taxpayer$ of Greater Victoria, June 2017