The City Council voted 4-0 during the regular meeting Tuesday, Sept. 17, with Mayor Brent Ives absent, to instruct city staff to look at the potential of building a for-profit water park in the city with theme park operator Wild Rivers Irvine LLC.
An alternative partnership, with the local developer Surland Cos., is likely to be considered at the next council meeting, on Oct. 1.
Tracy Mayor Pro Tem Michael Maciel expressed a sentiment the entire City Council had voiced before the vote.
“This has gone on long enough,” Maciel said. “We, the council, gave staff direction: Go out and find a potential public-private partnership as an option to move this forward.”
Councilman Robert Rickman spoke of the need for swift action.
“One thing I know for sure,” Rickman said, “and I can speak as someone born and raised here in Tracy, one thing the city has lacked is recreational activities for our families and kids. It’s something that we have to remedy. We do have a town of 85,000 without a swimming pool.”
Councilman Charles Manne talked about having to drive his now 4-year old son to Livermore to teach him how to swim.
“The truth is,” Manne said, “all the things that Tracy has accomplished over the past year, including the mighty Amazon, Prologis’ involvement in Tracy, getting off the ground the idea of higher education in Tracy — why can’t we get a pool done?”
Cost of doing business
Council members heard from Wild Rivers President Mike Riedel that a private-public partnership may be the only way to save the city millions of dollars of operating costs, including insurance and other infrastructure.
“The financial liability of a standalone swim facility has never been done without requiring a seven-digit (payment) annually from the city,” Riedel said. “If you have a swim facility, you have to keep it open year-round and staffed year-round. We already have staff year-round. There’s a lot of synergies that could exist.”
Manne asked Riedel if Wild Rivers had experience operating competition facilities.
“No, not competitive swimming pools,” Riedel responded. “We have activity pools, but we have not built competitive pools.”
Rickman expressed concern about a publicly run water facility.
“I have reservations about government running a business,” he said. “It seems a private entity can do it somewhat cheaper.”
Maciel agreed that whatever is built should have minimal fiscal impact on the city.
“We have a moral obligation as the council to have this thing have little, if any, reliance on general fund subsidy,” Maciel said.
Councilwoman Nancy Young questioned whether a for-profit amusement park would provide inexpensive access to water recreation.
“Cost is always been an issue,” Young said, “One thing I’m always a stickler for is amenities for our community that our community can afford to enjoy.”
Surland offers another option
Les Serpa, owner of Surland Cos., was the first of eight people to step to the microphone for public comment following a staff report and Riedel’s testimony before the City Council. He publicly offered the council a deal to build a water amenity.
In 2006, Serpa offered the City Council $10 million and 15 acres of land at the Ellis development at Valpico and Corral Hollow Roads with which to build the water park.
“We’re a stakeholder, and our initial concept was that the land at Ellis would be for a swim center, as well as the $10 million to fund that,” Serpa said during public comment. “We’re a believer in what the swim center can be, including all of the amenities, and we understand that if someone else can take that risk, it is certainly more possible to make it happen. We’d like to make it happen the way it looks and the vision it is today.”
Following his public comments, Serpa said owning an aquatic park was not out of the ordinary for his company.
“Even at Redbridge,” Serpa said, “we built the pool, the swim center, the general store. All those things. So we’re familiar with those kind of things.”
Serpa said Surland’s plan would include a partnership with an experienced aquatic center operator.
“We’re not an operator,” Serna said, “So we’d have to partner with someone, bring in USA Swim or people that are used to running these kinds of municipal things, as a private entity and operate it. We’d have to help them start and fund and do all those things.”
Council moves forward
Though the vote Tuesday was designed only to address a memorandum of understanding with Wild Rivers, council members welcomed the option offered by Serpa.
Maciel asked the city staff to pursue both Surland and Wild Rivers as potential partners on parallel paths.
The councilman said a pool large enough to support competition, a need expressed by many residents, is the one thing that should be common to both plans.
“I personally would very much like to see an Olympic-size pool as part of this,” Maciel said. “An Olympic-size pool that will accommodate competition, accommodate practice, accommodate fitness, accommodate swim lessons.”
Manne was even more direct with both developers.
“Mr. Serpa knows, and now Mr. Riedel knows, you’re not going to get an approval from me unless it’s going to provide all the amenities that were built in the initial aquatic center,” he said.
City Manager Leon Churchill, who put the agreement with Wild Rivers on the agenda, agreed to extend the same arrangement to Surland Cos. and bring the matter to the council for a vote at the next meeting. The city manager said he is clear about what council members and the community want in the very near future.
“I have no doubt that we will achieve the desired outcome that this community has been articulating for a very long time,” Churchill said. “I think it will come down to some choices on tradeoffs on how to achieve it. I am very optimistic we will reach the community’s ultimate desires.”
•Contact Michael Ellis Langley at 830-4231 or firstname.lastname@example.org.