Credit the elected leaders with treading carefully — these are deep waters.
Even if a developer agreement with The Surland Cos., the company behind the Ellis residential project, provides a promised $10 million, the city will still have only an estimated $14 million, by our count, to build a park that’s supposed to have slides, a river, a spray area and at least one competition pool.
That’s far short of the $30 million or so a consultant in January 2011 said would be needed to construct the entire park.
It’s even short of the $15.7 million cost estimate given this week for the first phase alone — and swim park advocates should know that the planned first phase does not include a competition pool.
Furthermore, with all the bells and whistles envisioned, it will cost more than $800,000 a year to operate and maintain the first phase.
But that is only an estimate. The cost could be higher, especially as it didn’t appear that the consultant’s estimate included the police presence or private security that will undoubtedly be needed for a first phase that’s supposed to lure 78,000 people annually.
The consultant says the aquatics park will pay for its ongoing operation by charging between $6.75 and $10.75 per daily admission. When more features, such as a competition pool, are added, the consultant said, the cost could go up.
This is where the water gets deep and tough questions need to be answered.
Daily user fees pushing $10 could price some people out of a public amenity. But burdening the city’s general fund with maintaining an aquatics park is a nonstarter, considering that the city is fighting to end a six-year deficit and police officers and firefighters are being asked to make concessions.
And there’s another wave to ride. If management of the facility is taken over by a company — some council members asked to explore the possibility this week — the aquatics park becomes a private entertainment endeavor boosted by time and treasure that could have gone to address other needs.
Of course, that all assumes the proper plan remains the extravagant water park imagined by residents in workshops years ago — when we lived in a vastly different economy. Fiscal reality suggests swim park advocates need to revisit their expectations.
We’re happy the City Council listened to that call this week.
Before inertia carried the city farther into the deep end, elected city leaders acknowledged the obvious imperative to reconsider what is needed, what can be paid for and what type of facility would maintain its value to the community.
We live in a different economic world than when the swim park was first envisioned, and if estimates don’t pan out, there will be no extra money to bail out a sinking ship.
The last thing Tracy needs 20 years from now is a white elephant of a swim park with no one riding to the rescue.