The price tag on a proposed multi-million-dollar aquatics center to boost sports tourism has gone back up — a figure that has been a moving target for years.
Earlier discussions and feasibility studies done several years ago set rough estimates upwards of $30 million.
Last year, after considerable debate among Hampton City Council members, it was whittled down to about $22 million.
On Wednesday, as the Council weighed in on Hampton’s next five-year capital improvement plan (CIP), the aquatics center again is front and center, proposed at roughly $30 million.
The Council unanimously voted — with three members reluctantly saying aye — to approve the capital spending plan on projects totaling $89.7 million, commencing in fiscal year 2020, plus $300.5 million in various projects over five years.
During the meeting, Vice Mayor Jimmy Gray made a motion to have three items about the aquatics center — $15.8 million for a community pool, a splash park at $4.5 million and $9.15 million for a competitive venue — removed from the current capital plan for further discussion and vote.
Mayor Donnie Tuck and Councilman Steve Brown agreed. Gray said he is not opposed to the aquatics center, but that there are other projects that need attention now.
Those projects would include building a social services office, a new fire station in the Wythe section and more funding for schools, before adding to the city’s debt capacity with the aquatics center, he said.
“I think we could move the aquatics center back a couple of years until we can get our arms around school maintenance, as well as other facilities,” Gray said. “I voted on the CIP last year, which did include the aquatics center, but at that time the cost was $22 million. Now it’s $29.5 million, so now we are being asked to vote on a higher cost.”
Advocates, including some residents who spoke in favor during the meeting, say Hampton badly needs the venue to accommodate high school teams and other groups since the Olde Hampton community pool was closed.
Council members in favor say the city needs to tap into the lucrative sport tourism market and create a venue that would be an epicenter for swimming tournaments in the Hampton Roads region. They disagreed with Gray’s motion and voted it down.
“This could become chaotic and disruptive,” Councilwoman Chris Osby Snead said of removing sections of the capital plan that have been vetted and identified. “Removing or delaying a project will create an array of changes not only to the CIP, but to the budget as well.”
Snead added that the capital plan should be worked on earlier in the year to address differences and solutions to concerns on projects.
Tuck said he could appreciate the idea of breaking out a portion of the capital plan, because it would allow members to vote on the overall capital plan without having to make a moral choice.
“As a matter of conscience, now we have to go along with something we don’t fully agree with,” Tuck said.
Meanwhile, a $20 million unsolicited proposal from Newport News-based Clancy & Theys Construction Company and Williamsburg-based GuernseyTingle to build the aquatics center is in the pipeline.
The “design team” is proposing a competitive facility with at least one Olympic-size pool, plus other amenities on a city-owned 5-acre vacant parcel at the Pine Chapel Road and Coliseum Drive intersection.
The group submitted its proposal last October under the Public-Private Education and Infrastructure Act guidelines, which allow developers to submit proposals on important public projects, allowing for early feedback before making them competitive.
City Manager Mary Bunting said other proposals have been submitted, but declined to say how many.
Brian DeProfio gave the overview of the next five-year capital plan during the Wednesday meeting that outlined the funding sources. It relies on a mix from the city’s general fund, state and federal sources, certain taxes and fees and revenue and general obligation bonds. Nearly $40 million of the capital improvement plan expenditure will be funded using bonds, DeProfio said.
The city’s debt service capacity is currently 3% of its assessed value of all real estate in Hampton, which is $322.8 million. For the fiscal 2020 proposed plan, the debt service is under 3%, DeProfio said.
Bunting’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2020 is $487.8 million, which includes the first year capital plan.
A second public hearing on the proposed budget is scheduled for May 1. Council will make a final vote on the budget May 8.
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