The Belle Terre Swim and Racquet Club was hopping Sunday afternoon: live music, free food, prizes, swimmers in the lap lanes, swimmers in the open pool area, loungers all around. “When I used to come here on a Sunday afternoon back in the 80s,” Veronica Thornton said, “it was like this. Not quite so many people—every single day.”
But that was more than 30 years ago, when the Belle Terre Swim and Racquet Club was the only game in town, when shops—and residents, just about—could be counted on a few hands, and when the school district had no competition for its community programs. All that is history. So is the Swim and Racquet Club: handsome and inviting as it still is, the club feels more like an oasis of nostalgia than a functional, marketable pool and health club, even though it has both. Its diehard patrons even speak of it in those terms. “People have grown up in this pool,” says long-time patron Ronee King. “It’s worth saving.”
But the Flagler County School District is done with it. The club—which is to say, the school district, and the public treasury—has been losing money: $137,000 this year. That’s had to be made up from general fund dollars. The district negotiated for months with the Volusia Flagler YMCA (the “Flagler” part of that has been entirely wishful since the Y left Flagler in 2011) to lease the club. It looked possible for a while. The talks collapsed when the Y said it would only take over if the district spent $200,000 in capital improvements, because the club is in severe disrepair. The district was unwilling.
Free food, prizes and nostalgia draw a crowd, but can that translate to 850 paid membership?
The district’s next move was to propose closing the club to members and keeping only the pool going for high school teams and the Flagler County Synchro Belles, the synchronized swimming team that’s had its share of success. The proposal triggered the latest round of opposition from club supporters and led to the formation of a group intent on saving the club, and taking it over. The school board reluctantly agreed to delay closure and instead put out a request for proposals, but only for a month.
Today is the deadline for those RFPs. In August, School Board member Andy Dance had spoken about getting the matter resolved by month’s end. It’s not clear whether the board will set a special meeting to decide the issue. Meanwhile, it keeps losing money. “Every day we’re open I have staff we have to pay, electricity, utilities,” Adult and Community Education Director Kevin McCarthy said. Staffing is down to just two full-timers and one part-timer. “We’ve really scaled back as much as we can in order to still stay open. We had a real challenge maintaining lifeguards and gym attendants.”
The so-called Belle Terre Swim and Racquet Club Advisory Committee is led by Doug Courtney, whose last bid to save a property was for the old Flagler County Courthouse (he was outbid by the First Baptist Christian Academy, which opened last month) and CarMichael McMillan, the SwipSwap administrator who made his name in popular opposition to Palm Coast’s despised red-light cameras.
Before Sunday the committee claimed to have raised $22,000—enough to run the club for one month at a bare-bones level. Sunday’s open house was to be a big fund-raiser. It drew a large crowd. Some 300 raffle and other prize tickets were sold, though people often buy more than one, while McMillan claims the event drew up to 500 people, almost certainly an exaggeration. Lots of free food is always a big draw. There will be no such free food if and when the club continues to operate under anyone’s management.
And by day’s end, the money raised was $4,900, McMillan said—enough to run the place for a week.
McMillan says it’s doable if the club can recruit 850 paying members, at $200 a year per member. But that would be more than twice as many members as the club had two years ago. He insists that a majority of people in town don’t even know the club is here. He says he knocked on 200 doors, and of the people who answered, the large majority said they didn’t know of the club’s existence. Of those who did, they though the pool was its only feature. They were unaware of its extensive gym, with a huge array of exercise machines and dumbbells.
“It’s known as ‘the pool,’ and that I think is what really hurt this place,” McMillan said. “It’s a total pool package. No gym membership in town is better than this, for what you get, OK? You get a lovely pool, you get exercise equipment, even the dumbbells. There are no other gyms with the dumbbell selection we have. So if you’re a heavy trainer, this is the best place for them to come.”
The customers are available. The club once peaked at 1,200 members, he says. “This place started off with a lead and just gave it away,” he says. “I understand the folks who run the facility, they’re educators. They shouldn’t be running a gym, and that’s what we’re trying to address. I don’t fault them for getting into a circumstance where they didn’t say a way out.”
Some supporters of the club fault the district for not advertising the place and its amenities well enough, a criticism McCarthy rejects. “I don’t think it’s fair to say the district has neglected advertising, there’s no extra dollars to advertise anything. We’re just trying to keep the doors open,” McCarthys aid.
As for the needed capital improvements, McMillan says the advisory group will take it one step at a time. The 850 needed memberships would merely allow the operation to break even, not make improvements. “We’d like to have that problem, but that’s not a problem for us to worry about at this point,” he said.
The fund-raiser started at 2 p.m. and was scheduled to run until 6 p.m. By 4 p.m., the crowd, which had included Palm Coast’s mayor and two county commissioners, but not school board members (the RFP process required them and school board employees to keep their distance from concerns submitting proposals) was beginning to thin even as Courtney was offering up more prizes.
Download the Belle Terre Swim and Racquet Club RFP here.
CarMichael McMillan says
Thank you FlaglerLive for your article. I always go with hope over despair.
At least this article is a bit more positive than the one you wrote about the efforts to get rid of the red light cameras.
That is working out pretty well. I suspect this will too.
Join us in the fight to save the club at:
Maybe they should’ve mailed out flyers to every household letting then know about the facilities. All the other Palm Coast amenities are advertised. I know it costs a lot to do a mailing, but the results could be profitable. The school department could’ve even had flyers printed up for the kids to bring home to their parents, or included a flyer in any other mailings they did.
Sell it to the county, they buy anything.
CarMichael McMillan says
Thank you tulip for your comment. Improving awareness and marketing of the facility is part of our efforts. We think we have done pretty good for a group formed only weeks ago. We just want the opportunity to continue what we are doing and more.
We believe we can save the club. I am taken aback by the negativity. What harm is done in allowing us to try?
Join us in the fight to save the club at:
I see kids jumping and playing in the picture but the reality is that they want this facility to be for only older people. If you want profitability, then maybe make it more family friendly of the seniors will have to pay huge dues and have it all to themselves.
The school board don’t have the funds..?
They are raising again our taxes and now they created a position and hired the TV reporter to be a public information official for the school board that probably cost us 2/3’s of the $137,000 annual cost needed for the pool to remain open? How come they can keep the pool open for students, etc; and close it to the very taxpayers that foot the costly school taxes? Why don’t they curtail the wasteful administrative cost ? Their awful plan to close this facility to the taxpayers use, is pathetic to say the least!.
In the 1980’s there was very little else for families to do in Flagler County but our recreational facilities have not kept pace with the population. The vast increase in population should have more than offset the few additional facilities in the county since then. With regard to Mr. McCarthy’s statement about there being no spare funds for advertising, I think our group has shown, with very few funds, it is quite possible to inform the community of this wonderful facility. With a little innovative thinking the Belle Terre Swim & Racquet Club could have maintained its popularity with events such as “movie night in the pool” during summer months, getting the community involved in events. We intend to involve the community with many specialized events given the opportunity.
“$200,000 in capital improvements, because the club is in severe disrepair.”!
What time of management/ maintenance plan has the FCSD used since 1996 to come to this debt?
And as par for the course, FCSD (Bless their Hearts) would be open to Lease in 1 to 5 year contracts, as there is absolutely no intention for an outright sale ever. Our school board would never diminish their power otherwise. They would rather let it rot, than relinquish any control. Truly a sad state of affairs.
Citizens of Palm Coast and supporters of the Belle Terre Swim and Racquet Club please take note of your elected Flagler County School District School Board members
Colleen Conklin (Chair Person)
Trevor Tucker (Vice Chair)
The FTI facility at Corporate Plaza had the same problem. Allowed to fall into disrepair and now abandoned because it would cost too much to bring it up to par. Years of neglect
I have said this before and I will say it again, if the group that has gotten together wants this facility to survive they are going to have to make the facility more family oriented. My family used to have a membership at this pool when we first moved to town. We only kept it for that first year because every time we went to the pool my children were made to sit out for extended periods of time because they were being “too active.” Too active? At a pool? Basically what it boiled down to was that my kids, while jumping in from the side, were splashing the old ladies sitting at the end of the swim lanes and OMG they may have gotten their hair wet. This same sort of scene occurred two more times after the one I just described. After the third occurrence we never went back again and I am sad to say I never will. My children are very respectful, well behaved children, but they are just that, children, and when at the swimming pool they like to have fun. Splashing is part of being a “fun” pool!
You can’t have a swimming pool where you rope off half of the pool and only allow lap swimmers to swim. This would be totally understandable if the half was roped off for a small amount of the day, but when you do it for the entire day, every day, you are not being very welcoming to young families.