From one perspective, the future of the Belle Terre Swim and Racquet Club keeps looking dimmer, its deficit unrelenting, the likelihood of steeply increased membership fees looming, and little to no interest from other government agencies to help beyond what one of them–the county–is doing now.
From another perspective, the club may yet have another savior: Gustavo Calado, owner of Planet Swim, a Ponte Vedra-based for profit offering services very similar to the Swim and Racquet Club, is interested in the property–either to take it over, or to run it in partnership with the district. But those talks are at the preliminary stage. There are no commitments.
And that hope rests on what may be an easement in the form of a Hail Mary pass: Calado is exploring the possibility of cutting a direct road from Belle Terre Parkway to the Swim and Racquet Club, which sits in the interior center of the Parkview Drive loop.
Earl Johnson, who’s in charge of community and student engagement, Facilities Director Dave Freeman and Renee Stauffacher, who runs the district’s adult education division that oversees the Swim and Racquet Club, on April 8 met with Calado.
“He has worked to either help build or takeover or run several aquatic centers in the area and the region,” Stauffacher told the school board at a workshop Tuesday.
Colado proposed three options for the school board to consider: Take over outright ownership of the Swim and Racquet Club, lease the property from the school district and take over all operations, or establish a partnership with the district, leaving the district to continue to maintain the grounds and the capital projects. In other words, the third option would have the district act as landlord, responsible for landlord upkeep and repairs.
“Regardless of which way we went, if we went that way to support his plan, he would need to invest about $3 to $5 million,” Stauffacher said, “which would include the building of an additional pool where the tennis courts are currently located.” That also means the elimination of those swimming pools, which according to Swim and Racquet figures, are generating very little use. Palm Coast government, on the other hand, is preparing to vastly expand its Tennis Center not far off.
Calado would expect that his operation at the Swim and Racquet Club would generate its own significant traffic, to the point of drawing users by the busload. “He does have a concern, however, regarding traffic and the large charter-style buses that would be running through the residential neighborhood,” Stauffacher said. “So as a next step, he is going to get with the City of Palm Coast, and look at the ability to put an access road from Belle Terre Parkway directly into the swim and Racquet Club through an easement that’s owned by the city. So that is his next step of action and we expect for him to get back to us shortly.”
Only one meeting has taken place between Calado and the district. But it is already clear from Stauffacher’s perspective that the success of any such talks “will absolutely depend on whether or not they can get that access road from Belle Terre Parkway directly into the Swim and Racquet Club. Our take from the meeting, and the summary of that is if that cannot happen, then it does not appear he’s interested.”
But such an easement, if it was even feasible from an engineering perspective–the only possible routes would parallel canals, making them even less likely–would almost certainly trigger howls of protests from that segment of the P-Section anyway: the Palm Coast City Council is subjected to such howls even when it closes minuscule and out of the way roads, making the proposition politically tenuous.
“I don’t think he even understood the limitations of that site, compared to the other sites that he has resurrected and invested in,” School Board member Janet McDonald said of Calado, with whom she’d spoken at the club.
Jason deLorenzo, the city’s development director, confirmed that there’d been no contact between Colado and the city’s parks and recreations department, engineering or Community Development. He was also skeptical of the road idea: “I don’t see a direct connection to Belle Terre being viable as there is a storm water facility that runs through that area,” DeLorenzo said.
Meanwhile the district is considering a few capital improvements this year at the club: some electrical work, the replacement of a water heater and some painting, along with other waterworks, all of it amounting to less than $25,000. Next year the district would remove a portable, replace heating and air units (assuming they stop functioning, and repair the parking lot and remove trees whose roots keep buckling the lot, for $80,000. The cost of resurfacing the tennis courts would run to $50,000, but that project is tenuous, considering usage and the district’s hopes for a partnership with Planet Swim.
Those costs come at a difficult time for the club, as the school board learned this year–and keeps relearning, month after month, as new financial numbers are submitted.
The Swim and Racquet Club revenue is running 60 to 62 percent of budgeted costs, with losses at the end of March at $95,000, up from $89,000 in February. “So we are trending in the wrong direction and we are continuing to see losses, as we go through each fiscal year those losses are getting bigger,” Patty Wormeck, the district’s finance director, says. Summer-camp revenue is expected to make up some of that loss in June and July, but expected losses for the year are projected at $168,000.
That loss is not necessarily attributable to covid, Wormeck said. “The programs that have taken a hit due to COVID have been able to adjust their cost. They have also been able to supplement some of their revenues with some CARES grants,” Wormeck said. For example, if covid reduces VPK’s enrollment, the program can adjust, laying off staff accordingly. (VPK is run out of the district’s adult education division, which also oversees the Swim and Racquet Club). If the club’s pool is open, “you’re always going to need a lifeguard, you’re always going to need those as-needed people so we continue to incur costs at a greater rate than we can get in gym fees.”
Based on those numbers and capital needs ahead, Stauffacher said, “we would have to increase membership fees significantly in order to sustain the club ourselves, which would require a vote of the fee schedule by the board.” Currently, a family membership is $225 per adult, with children up to age 12 getting in free as part of that membership, as long as they’re accompanied by an adult. Annual membership for students 13 to 21 is $125. The monthly rate is $35 per adult or student, the daily rate is $4.
Based on Stauffacher’s research, the average rate for clubs like Belle Terre was $412 per year, she said. “So, initially looking at if we raised that to $375 per year, we still would be nowhere close to being able to meet our capital needs for the Racquet Club,” Stauffacher said. “It would have to be [substantially] more than that or an assessment fee of some kind.” And with it, operating needs would be met, but not so capital needs.
Keep in mind: today’s fees are half what they were in 2009, when a family membership was $564, monthly fees were $90, and monthly student fees were $69. Single-day admission was $8. See the 2009 fee schedule here. The club has lowered fees over the years to stimulate membership. Rising fees again may have the opposite effect.
Membership numbers are creeping back up, now that people are getting vaccinated. Assuming all current 200 members continued and membership costs were increased, the club could see increased revenue of $30,000 per year, Stauffacher said.
The board had directed Superintendent Cathy Mittelstadt to have conversations with other government agencies. She arranged a meeting with five entities. Two showed up, one of them county government, which already contributes $25,000 a year to the club and has been doing so since the middle of the last decade, when the club last passed the hat in hopes of surviving. The county is not interested in increasing its contribution, the superintendent said. Palm Coast didn’t show up. The only other government that did was Flagler Beach, which has its own rather large swimming park along its east end.
“Other than that it’s been silence.” Mittelstadt said. “I think that kind of speaks to, perhaps their potential involvement moving forward in terms of what they could do to support the school board.”
Palm Coast isn’t likely to underwrite anything at Belle Terre Swim and Racquet since it is about to launch its expansion at the Tennis Center–and is facing a simmer of criticism over the ambitiousness of that plan. The simmer is not limited to Palm Coast meetings: School Board member Janet McDonald, in what would surely not help the school district’s case with Palm Coast, took a pot shot at the city’s plan on Tuesday, mischaracterizing it as the city wanting to “invest $17 million into a pickleball extravaganza” based on a survey of “130 some odd people who responded to the survey that they were interested in pickleball.” The plan is more nuanced and varied.
Still, McDonald said part of the responsibility rests on the city. “I appreciate that you reached out to our other city and county boards, and yet to have them not participate in the board that has the most important service for this community,” McDonald said, “I think it’s really important that we have our Palm Coast community members really reach out and implore the county council or the city council to relook at their obligation.” She said the city closes its pool several months a year to save money, shifting usage to the school board’s facility. “We don’t get funding for that, and they have taxing ability, they have utility funds, they have lots of funds that they’re moving around to do these recreation opportunities–a splash park, the regeneration of all their other parks. They could even expand their use of their pool, or even outfit it differently so they could have it year round with heating and all of that.” (McDonald was inaccurate regarding utility funds, which are not being spent–and may not be spent–on recreation, and appeared to be unaware of the city’s numerous recreation programs for children and adults.) McDonald said Swim and Racquet Club members should put pressure on the city to do its part.
The city’s subsidizing of the racquet club would also be politically hazardous since the city runs its own aquatic center almost within throwing distance of the Swim and Racquet Club, behind Wadsworth Elementary School.
From the aerial map, there is no possibility of a direct road from Belle Terre to the property. Residentials already in place, there’s a canal that makes a road a poor idea if not impossible. Palm Coast Aquatics Center behind Buddy Taylor should’ve been the only swimming & tennis facility there. Outside of that where the baseball & soccer fields are North towards Matanzas Parkway would’ve made sense. What makes sense here ? Sell the property and allow residential to be built there instead. We’re back to poor city planning that seems to be an issue around Palm Coast & Flagler County.
Actually there are three parcels of land to cross, the one mentioned owned by “we the people” and two others owned by a company called MPC Lots, LLC. The larger of their these two fronts on Parkview and Parkway Drives and is ripe to be developed similar to Park Place or Rivergate. I cannot see this developer sabotaging his plans for this land to sell off a small piece so the pool can make money. The smaller of these parcels would need to be purchased in order to build the new intersection at Belle Terre – which opens another can of worms. One other issue here is just who is going to pay for this new road? This pool guy? The school board? or “we the people”? Oh forget it, I already know the answer.
As far as building a new road in conjunction with the storm drainage system, that problem could be solved with a very substantial cash outlay. We engineers know how to do these things, IF you have the money to pay for it.
The biggest issue is that there are 26 – 30 property owners (depending on final routing) that would end up with a road in their backyards. This will not only affect their perceived property rights but will also affect the rear yard setbacks for these parcels. And just what kind of precedent would it set for the city to start selling or renting off these small parcels around town for the benefit of a private business. Remember, it is our land, not the city councils . . .
Percy's mother says
Having spent a great deal of my life in the water actively swimming (not floating) from birth ’till today, I’m appalled that in a “city” the size of Palm Coast there isn’t a decent swimming facility.
Now, I’m not talking about going to a swimming pool, getting in a lap lane (which is supposed to be for LAP SWIMMERS), and floating around in an active lap lane taking up space for an hour or so having social hour. I’m talking about actually SWIMMING LAPS, which is an active sport IN A LAP LANE.
If you go to any area on the coast in Australia, you’ll see / find Olympic-sized swimming pools everywhere right next to the ocean in addition to large rock pools actually built into the ocean (such that the ocean waves can continue to fill the rock pools with fresh saltwater). So in essence, you have your choice of saltwater or chlorinated water if you want to swim in a pool while you’re at the beach. If you want to go in the surf AND swim laps in a pool, that’s available too, because a pool is there AND the surf is there. Brilliant right?????? Australia is a country (in addition to many others) way ahead of Palm Coast going back about 100 years. Not only that, but people actually know how to swim in those swimming pools. It’s understood you don’t jump into an active lap lane to simply hang out on a “noodle” while someone else is actively racing down that same lap lane with head in the water.
I might add that ICELAND has an Olympic-sized heated (thermal) well-maintained swimming pool at EACH SCHOOL along with a sauna (but that’s beside the point). All Icelanders are required to be able to swim a mile or 2 before being able to graduate from high school. This isn’t a statement made off the top of my head, I’ve actually been there to see, learn and experience how Iceland handles sports.
All that being said, as much as Palm Coast claims to be the best and greatest, it’s very far behind the rest of the world and the rest of the country.
In an attempt to maintain physical fitness as well as immerse myself in my love for the water and for swimming, I’ve been known to drive all the way down to Daytona Beach EVERY DAY just to be able to swim in a decent swimming pool. Ditto for driving to St. Augustine.
AND PLEASE, you can’t swim laps in the ocean, so don’t even mention it.
ALSO, you can’t swim laps in a tiny backyard swimming pool, so don’t mention that either.
So where’s all the tax money going? Do we really need more trails? Do we really need more parks? How many more millions need to be plowed into Holland Park? Do we really need to plow more tax money into a barely used tennis center? For God’s sake, the county can’t even afford pickle ball courts.
But the county can continue to subside the owners of the restaurant at Bing’s Landing.
This issue’s been raised again and again. Belle Terre Swim & Racquet Club has been mismanaged for YEARS. It’s overstaffed but no one wants to take a look at that issue. You’ve got 3 people sitting in the office doing basically nothing all day collecting salary and benefits, but no one wants to confront that issue. It’s also been primarily a geriatric facility for years, catering to the elderly who visit the place for lack of any other social interaction. In essence it serves the purpose to float around for an hour or two and gossip but to very rarely to allow others to actually swim.
Is anyone around this place an “out of the box” thinker? Or, am I one of the few who can look at things differently? The issue with this facility CAN BE SOLVED. Either way, I’ve given up on this place, this town and this county. It’s way too backward for me.
So as a local resident I disagree with your comment about ‘backward for me’ as it relates to a community pool. The city has Frieda Zamba. Please for the love of God, tell me what city/county anywhere around here has TWO pools for the general public to use. The city is fortunate to operate one and its a complete luxury to have two within the county…what is it that you want exactly? On the surface it sounds like you want the city/county to give you your own personal lap pool and pickle ball court. Or maybe I am just confused about your post.
James M. Mejuto says
Well . . . it’s gonna take a lot of imagination and talented to get the Belle Terre Club on firm ground,
to make ago at it and increase its membership numbers.
However, it seems the Belle Terre Club is butting its head against the wall, bucking competition from the City
itself: The Tennis Center and the Aquatic Center . . . and now they want to run a road directly from
Belle Terre Pkwy to the Club ! ? ? ?
We’ve had the finest minds trying to come up with a solution but yet in today’s environment, every community
should have a facility.
However, it seems the gods are against us !
I think this is a worthy cause. Many seniors belong to this facility and insurance covers their membership.
Seniors cannot just retreat from this facility . . . there’s got to be some solution.
The problem is philosophy: Is this facility going to run as a business or a community need ? I hope we are
concerned and dedicated to the health of our citizens, who by the way, pay taxes.
Charlie Ericksen Jr says
I am an enrollee, in the local Hospital ( AdventHealth) Medicare , Advantage Plan, and a benefit of that, is the use of services at the Complex..I don’t know, what their contribution to the Pool/exercise location, BUT maybe the Hospital could
Mary Fusco says
Then Palm Coast needs a specific facility for lap swimming such as a YMCA. Many, many years ago my husband and I joined this swim club. I don’t know about now, but they were definitely not family friendly. Seems the lap swimmers took first choice. When we brought our grandchildren, there was always a problem. We left. For the remainder of the years that our grandchildren were young, we went to the Frieda Zamba pool. More family friendly. If we are going to have a “community” pool, it is for everyone, not just lap swimmers. BTW, anyone paying the ridiculous dues for these pools have the right to lol around and gossip.
Bill C says
Maybe if the city upgraded and modernized the adjacent gym, there might be a chance. Right now at the gym they play ‘oldies’ over the sound system, display posters of physically fit seniors. Perhaps focus on attracting a wider demographic. Shift to a great gym with the added benefit of a pool and sauna, which Planet Fitness doesn’t have. That would make the facility competitive, then promote promote promote it.
The place is a money pit, the pool just had a very expensive make over, paid for by the district, the filtration system needs to be replaced, the portable buildings on site have seen better days. The place was built by ITT in the 70’s . Doze it down and make good use of the property.
Sink or swim. Sell it! As a taxpayer, I want no part of taking on the losses of this facility.
Poor planning by the City of PC. I don’t understand why this pool has been an issue for this long? Where I come from each town has a community pool and they have run very successfully for years what is PC problem? If the City of PC doesn’t know how to operate it they should sell it and let someone that know what their doing operate it. It’s better then let it close like you see all the empty stores in PC that the City keeps building these strip malls with no one to fill them. To me it is very poor planning of the City of PC, maybe they need to get officials in there that know how to run a town efficiently.
@ Mythoughts: Why do you blame the city for a swim and tennis facility that is not under city control as is under county and school board control instead. City has no authority on this facility unless turned over to the city of Palm Coast for zero value and if accepted. Instead you should ask the county and school why with the plenty taxes they collect from us, (look at your yearly home ad valorem taxes), as we pay double to county and schools than we pay to the city of Palm Coast, why don’t they fix and sustain this Olimpic size laps pool and grounds for practice of the school student athlete swimmers and also for the residents scheduled days that pay an affordable fee other than waste our taxes buying derelict useless contaminated real estate to sell it for peanuts down the road and keep on increasing high departmental heads positions and pays and wasting in legal fees suing constitutional officials and or tax payers for not keeping silent when wrong doing is uncovered?
Our high school taxes also pay for school capital projects then other than accumulation as much of those funds why are not also used as part of necessary and positive student physical education in a warm state like Florida training of students swimmers and as such keep that facility in tip top condition ? Student swimmers can become our lifeguards in our beaches, firefighters, law enforcement, EMS workers and armed forces units benefitting also from being good swimmers. Why not assign some of our taxes to properly maintain, repair and remodel that needed pool for physical education swim for the students. What a better way to invest our school taxes other than more layers of high paid school administrators?