Swim Center Community Meetings: Tell Us What You Want to Hear

By Carolyn Schuk
Swim Center Community Meetings: Tell Us What You Want to Hear

The community meetings that the City of Santa Clara is holding about the new Central Park complex housing the International Swim Center (ISC), the Community Recreation Center (CRC) and the International Swimming Hall of Fame (ISHOF) museum may be communicating new information. But not to residents.

Instead, the format is designed to deliver insight to Project Financial Advisors Ltd. (PFAL), the consulting company given a $650,000 contract by the Santa Clara City Council last April to find $250 million to build the new center and sell residents on the project.

The meetings—the last will be Sept. 13 at Henry Schmidt Park from 5:45 to 8 p.m.—include a brief presentation about the project containing information that was presented to the City Council last June. The project’s architect, Berkeley-based ELS Architecture and Urban Design, wasn’t at the Sept. 5 meeting.

At that meeting, the bulk of the time was spent on something more like a political focus group than a community information meeting.

Participants were presented with a list of about 15 possible projects and priorities—only two of them had to do with swimming and the International Swim Center—and asked their opinions about them in multiple ways: rate the item’s importance, rate your level of support for this item, rank the relative level of importance of several items in a group, and, finally, rate the persuasiveness of these features as arguments for the proposed project.

The projects covered an expansive wish list: from building a new swim center to providing early childhood education, from warm water physical therapy pools to using more recycled water in parks.

Was attracting competitive swim meets more important than providing Red Cross lifesaving classes? Was offering “dozens of programs for families and children with childcare as well as spaces for parties and music” a very, somewhat, little, or not all convincing argument for the project?

The questions were very similar to those in PFAL’s phone survey last June. A “modest tax increase” to fund the ambitious project only came up once Tuesday night.

Although no mention was made of ballot initiatives at this meeting, at the June Council meeting evaluating the persuasiveness of different arguments for the new center, PFAL stated that that was a goal of the survey.

Rebuilding the George Haines International Swim Center, originally estimated at $40 to $50 million, has been under discussion for at least 10 years. However, there was no money available for it.

In 2013, local swim clubs launched an effort to raise the money privately to rebuild the ISC, the Silicon Valley Aquatics Initiative (SVAI). When the Swim Hall of Fame announced in 2013 it was moving from Fort Lauderdale, former City Council Member Kevin Moore was instrumental in contacting the ISHOF and forming a committee to raise private money to bring the museum to Santa Clara.

The two projects were married in 2014 when ELS proposed the present project—an ultramodern three-pool attraction on Kiely Blvd. with seating for 3,800 and a replacement for the existing Community Recreation Center with facilities for a plethora of year-round activities including recreational aquatics, indoor sports, classes, juice bars, services like childcare and a community theater. The cost four years ago was estimated at $100 million. It’s now more than doubled.

PFAL is a San Francisco division of the multinational DAR Group. The City Council tasked the company to develop a plan for financing, building and operating the proposed complex. One of PFAL’s core businesses is specialty financing arrangements called public private partnerships—P3s or PPPs—for public infrastructure construction.

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