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Y official sees Palm Harbor working out

A master plan for the proposed facility is unveiled and officials are preparing for a $5-million fundraising campaign.

By ROBERT FARLEY

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 27, 2000


PALM HARBOR -- Plans for a YMCA here appear to be gaining momentum.

The Suncoast Family YMCA unveiled a master plan as part of a recent application for a special zoning exception to allow the facility on 8.5 acres of county-owned property on 16th Street.

The plan calls for indoor facilities including a fitness center, a kids' gym, an aerobics room, a basketball gymnasium and meeting space for community groups, said Steve Tarver, president and chief executive officer of Suncoast Family YMCAs Inc.

The facility would be modeled after the James Gills YMCA that opened in Trinity in West Pasco County in April 1998.

The plan also calls for two outdoor pools. One would be a 25-yard-long pool mainly for competitive swimming by high school students. The other pool would be a recreational, family water park, Tarver said, complete with slides and fountains.

First, however, the county's Board of Adjustment will be asked to grant a special exception to allow the agriculturally zoned property to be used for the facility. The request, which actually comes from the county because the county owns the property, will be heard Wednesday.

The property is used as a county utilities maintenance facility, which the county plans to abandon, said Paul Cassel, director of the county's Development Review Services department. The YMCA project would require demolition of the maintenance building, he said.

Meanwhile, YMCA officials are gearing up for a $5-million fundraising drive to finance the facility.

The parents of swim team members at Palm Harbor University High School have been the backbone of fundraising efforts so far, Tarver said. The swim team boosters have a $500,000 fundraising goal.

YMCA officials have been training volunteers and organizing teams to begin fundraising, Tarver said.

Their efforts got a huge boost in November, thanks to a donation from prominent eye surgeon Dr. James Gills and his wife, Heather. The couple donated $6-million to YMCAs along the Suncoast, and $1-million has been earmarked for a Palm Harbor facility.

"It's very exciting," Tarver said. "We've got a few things proceeding that we're excited about. And we continue to get lots of positive response from the community.

"We'd like to think we could break ground some time this year," Tarver said.

Construction would last 10 to 12 months.

But if the project moves forward, it will have to do so without Tarver, who has accepted a position to head up the YMCA operation in Lexington, Ky. He will be leaving the Suncoast YMCA on May 20 after more than 11 years.

Tarver said his departure should not deter the Palm Harbor YMCA plans.

"This one has so much momentum and support," Tarver said.

A full-time consultant has been assigned to the project and the volunteer corps has been growing daily, he said.

Add to that the $1-million gift and the dedication of the swim team boosters, he said, and, "It's going to happen despite any transition in my position."

Last summer, the YMCA surveyed the community and determined residents would support a YMCA complex.

That came as no surprise to parents of swimmers at Palm Harbor University High, who contacted the YMCA last year and urged the organization to build a facility with a pool in Palm Harbor. Palm Harbor has no public pools. Members of the high school's swim team now practice and hold competitions at Clearwater High School's pool 10 miles away.

Provided it receives a special exception next week, the county will begin negotiating with the YMCA over a lease or purchase of the property, said Ellyn Kadel, real estate manager for the county. The county will seek fair market value, Kadel said.

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