South St. Louis Rec Plex thrives while North side contract stalls

10:52 PM, Aug 9, 2012   |    comments
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By Leisa Zigman

(KSDK) - They are supposed to be the same. They are supposed to cost about $21 million each. They are supposed to have identical features.

The Carondelet Park Rec Plex in South St. Louis is considered state of the art. The YMCA runs it and has been asked to run O'Fallon Park on the city's north side.

Agency leaders agreed, but the contract they submitted asks taxpayers to dish out more than a million dollars a year for the next 10 years in order to run O'Fallon Park.

When the Carondelet Park facility went up, taxpayers subsidized the YMCA about $300,000 the first year and less money over the next two years. In fact, it is now so successful, subsidies are no longer needed.
But the proposal for the identical facility on the north side is much different.

The YMCA's proposal first asked for more than double the subsidies: $700,000. That number has jumped to $1,200,000 every year for the next 10 years.

Long time parks director Gary Bess said since people on the north side may not be able to afford the monthly fee; subsidies are needed to operate the facility.

"It's basically a matter of economics of disposable income in the area around O'Fallon versus the area around Carondelet," he said. "It's time our citizens had the same type of facilities they do with our surrounding neighbors. We want to make sure it's operated right and we know the YMCA can do it."

Some are questioning whether the YMCA even wants to operate a facility in what has been known as a high crime area. Rob West has been named the new executive director for the YMCA's O'Fallon Park facility.

West said the organization is proud to operate in North St. Louis and hopes to make it as successful as or even more successful than the Carondelet facility. He added they are just waiting for the Board of Alderman to approve the contract.

21st Ward Alderman Antonio French helped lead the charge to bring the complex to O'Fallon Park. But he also led the charge to table the contract because taxpayers were being asked to foot more than half of the operating costs.

"We aren't going to pass a bad deal for tax payers," French said. "The deal they gave us in the first draft would have our folks paying $45 dollars a month on a place that is 60 percent subsidized."

We learned Thursday night that Bess and representatives with the YMCA have come up with some changes they hope satisfy the board.

"We are going to be offering 650 youth memberships at a cost of $25 a year. That is $2 a month and that is pretty affordable," Bess said.

French said he wanted to see the deal in writing but thought the new proposal appeared to be a great start. The facility will still need subsidies to operate. If the board passes the contract, it could open by the end of the year. If the board does not like the deal, French believes the city can operate the facility on its own.



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