The Piedmont Family YMCA has leased and operated Crozet Park’s recreational facilities for the last nine years, but as of April 1, 2020, ACAC will take over as the park’s new operator. The recently-announced change in facilities management stemmed from a disagreement over lease renewal terms, leaving many Crozet residents with questions about future rates and program offerings.
While park users’ membership rates will not immediately change, they do have a choice to make ahead of the transition this spring. Current YMCA members can elect to (1) remain YMCA members and use the Brooks Family YMCA in Charlottesville and the Waynesboro YMCA, or (2) transfer their membership to the Crozet Aquatic and Fitness Center operated by ACAC and continue to use the facilities in the park.
Under either option, current members will pay the same rates they are paying now for three months (beginning April 1), after which the YMCA member rates will rise to become consistent with Brooks YMCA rates. Those who choose to stay in the park facilities (operated by the ACAC) will keep current rates and will be given the opportunity to select additional ACAC locations for additional fees if they wish to upgrade their membership. Both facilities will continue to offer financial assistance to those who qualify.
Plans for a new Aquatic and Fitness Center (AFC) in the Park (see the Gazette’s September article for details) sparked a fresh evaluation of the facility’s management and lease needs, and contract negotiations revealed sharp divisions between the terms envisioned by the park and the YMCA.
“The YMCA required a long-term commitment from the park to operate the new facility when it is built,” said Kim Guenther, Crozet Park Board president. “The YMCA wanted the park to take on all the debt and fundraising for a new facility and then lease it to the YMCA for decades at about $1 a year [as it does in McIntire Park], without any competing bids from other operators. From a financial perspective, that is just not feasible for the park, and from the perspective of our charter, it would not be the right thing for the community.”
For the YMCA, however, that commitment was key to any agreement. “The current state of the facility with the existing lease structure, combined with no long-term commitment to partner with the YMCA if/when the facilities are upgraded, is not sustainable for the YMCA,” said Jessica Maslaney, CEO of the Piedmont Family YMCA. “The YMCA preferred a long-term ground lease, but was also amenable to a triple net lease and was willing to play a supportive role in fundraising. Ultimately, the Y wanted a commitment from the park to partner with the Y long-term in the form of a first-right-of-refusal for a future facility. Given the nine-year relationship in the existing facility, we did not feel that was unreasonable.”
Maslaney also pointed to the partnership between the park and the YMCA—both non-profits—as a valuable community asset. “Our missions are aligned to provide civic-minded, affordable aquatics, fitness, and family recreation to residents of Western Albemarle, and the YMCA currently provides financial assistance to 13% of Crozet YMCA members, totaling $106,000 each year,” she said. “What became clear throughout the lease negotiations was that the park saw the YMCA and ACAC as interchangeable recreation management companies, which is contrary to the YMCA’s non-profit mission.”
For its part, the park board said that it was “willing to entertain other arrangements, but the YMCA refused to negotiate further.” In response to the YMCA’s concerns about the state of the facility, the park board noted recent improvements in park facilities such as the renovated Community Building, the Perimeter Trail, expanded and paved parking areas, covered pavilions, lighted ball fields, dog park, and year-round dome for the pool.
“After seven to eight years of the Y occupying the fitness center, it is definitely in need of some work,” said Guenther. “Our partnership with ACAC provides the opportunity to reset the facility and we think the members are going to be really happy with the results.”
The Path Ahead
As for 2020 program options, both the park and the YMCA are striving for continuity. “Our understanding is that the Y will begin reducing services as early as March 1, and the park and ACAC are preparing to step in and cover any degradation in services caused by the Y’s departure,” said Guenther. “This will likely include group exercise classes in the Community Building and other services at ACAC Crozet.”
ACAC intends to offer after-school care and summer camps under the ACAC brand, and the park board is committed to ensuring no interruption in the after-care program during the transition. “The long-time stakeholders in our park such as Peachtree Baseball/Softball, Crozet Gators Swimming, SK8 Crozet, and the Crozet Trails Crew will not be affected by the change in operator,” said Guenther. The park intends that year-round swimming will be offered without interruption (though the form that program will take is still being finalized), and is exploring ways to allow local teens to continue to swim year-round in Crozet instead of in downtown Charlottesville.
Susan Johnson, vice president of communications and marketing for the ACAC, said the company is committed to maintaining the affordability of the current membership rates. “The park board is preparing exciting enhancements to the existing facility and programming,” said Johnson. “ACAC loves the Crozet community and we are looking forward to serving Crozet in a greater way!”
Preparing for the transition, the YMCA is currently investigating alternate facility options in Crozet and has requested building and swim lane space from the park to be able to continue to work with current children and families for the remainder of the school year.
“The YMCA remains hopeful that while we were unable to come to terms for a short-term lease in the existing facility, there will be an opportunity for the park and the YMCA to come together again in the future,” said Maslaney. “While we are disappointed by this decision, the YMCA remains committed to the Crozet community.”