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    Land deal kicks YMCA project into gear

    With the county accepting a $400,000 bid for 8.5 acres in Palm Harbor, YMCA officials say they hope to break ground on the new facility in April.

    By ROBERT FARLEY

    © St. Petersburg Times, published December 5, 2000


    PALM HARBOR -- Mike Doyle will have some exciting news at this weekend's Palm Harbor University High School swim team banquet.

    Pinellas County commissioners recently accepted the Suncoast Family YMCA's $400,000 bid to purchase 8.5 acres on 16th Street from the county for a new YMCA in Palm Harbor. The plan for the $5-million, full-fitness facility includes two outdoor pools.

    That's welcome news for the swim team because Palm Harbor has no public pools.

    The county property is on 16th Street between the Palm Harbor Adult Day Care Center and Palm Harbor University High School baseball and softball fields.

    YMCA officials said they hope to break ground on the facility as early as April.

    "It's very, very exciting," said Doyle, a swim team booster and one of the parents who initiated the dialogue that led to the YMCA proposal.

    Doyle said fundraising has been going well, but many prospective donors want to know whether the project will really happen. He is convinced the purchase of the property will be "the shot in the arm and energizing needed to move this to the next level."

    Tim Ackerman, associate vice president of buildings and grounds for the Suncoast Family YMCA, said they hope to have the initial phase of construction completed 10 to 12 months after work begins.

    Fundraising for the facility has reached $1.3-million. The bulk of that, $1-million, comes from a $6-million donation made last year by prominent eye surgeon James Gills and his wife, Heather, to YMCAs along the Suncoast.

    Purchase of the Palm Harbor property is an exciting step, Ackerman said.

    "It got us moving from a dead stop," Ackerman said.

    The YMCA was the only bidder on the county property. The county accepted bids only from those who planned to use the property for recreational purposes.

    "We didn't want to see anything inconsistent with the neighborhood," said Ellyn Kadel, the county's real estate manager.

    The county had the property appraised at $400,000, the minimum bid it would accept. The property was used as a county utilities maintenance facility, which the county plans to abandon. The maintenance facility will be demolished.

    The new YMCA would be modeled after the James Gills YMCA that opened in Trinity in West Pasco County in April 1998. Preliminary plans call for two outdoor pools (one for competition, the other for a recreational, family water park), a kids gym, a basketball gymnasium, an aerobics room and meeting space for community groups.

    The original plan proposed by the swim boosters two years ago was to have the YMCA manage a swim facility for the high school. Members of the high school's swim team now practice and hold competitions at Clearwater High School's pool 10 miles away. Since then, however, the plan grew into a proposal for a full-scale YMCA.

    Doyle said the swim boosters have been thrilled with the YMCA's commitment, though sometimes frustrated by the time it takes to move the process forward.

    This summer, the swim boosters kicked off a fundraising campaign of their own. Their goal is to raise $500,000 toward the project.

    "We literally had to slow down and give the process a chance to catch up, which it has," Doyle said.

    "The YMCA has been incredible in their assistance, direction, trust and communication, and their money, to move this forward," Doyle said. "They have been an excellent partner for the swim boosters."

    - Staff writer Robert Farley can be reached at (727) 445-4185 or farley@sptimes.com.

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