OPINION: Indefinite Y project still definitely about money

City's statement leaves questions unanswered about the fate of the YMCA

The proposed new YMCA facility in Abbotsford has been “indefinitely deferred.”

So said Mayor Bruce Banman on Monday night, to cheers from a number of people in the audience.

Well, that’s the end of that saga, then.

But is it?

In a letter to the city, the YMCA also stated an intention to “indefinitely withdraw their offer” to build a new facility here.

However, as local businessman and vocal opponent Fred Thiessen pointed out, the memorandum of understanding (MOU) still exists. Banman agreed that the city and the YMCA have yet to address the conditions of that agreement.

“Deferred” is not “dead,” and the reason given for the deferral did not reflect the key concerns of those objecting to this project.

At the core of their protests is the public cost – pegged at $17.5 million, which is half of the estimated $35-million price tag for a 55,000-square-foot facility featuring a recreation centre, swimming pool, and offering a host of community programs and daycare.

In addition, the Y would be asking for tax-exempt status, which it enjoys in many other communities – worth millions of dollars over the life of the building.

The Y would also get a considerable chunk of land at the site of the old MSA Hospital – provided by the Fraser Health Authority.

In total, it’s a major package of public capital, revenue and assets, handed off in exchange for another recreation facility in this community, but one that the city doesn’t own.

Under different circumstances, this may be acceptable, even advisable.

However, as it’s been pointed out by many voices over the past several months, this city is not exactly flush with cash. Capital reserves have been depleted for other initiatives, and taxpayers are annually bailing out an AHL hockey team and the arena it plays in.

In addition, last week the city committed to a new $8-million investment in cost-shared infrastructure – namely the widening of Sumas Way to the border crossing, and an overpass at the railroad tracks at Vye Road.

That news in itself would have been a good opportunity for the city to gracefully bow out of the YMCA deal.

Yet, the official line behind the indefinite postponement of the Y is the tragic loss of the city’s general manager of parks, recreation and culture, Mark Taylor, who died in a skiing accident last month.

There is no question he was the city’s champion for the YMCA project, and a key figure in its development. Losing him is indeed a deep, grievous blow.

Yet, the city and the Y really could not keep the process moving without him?

(Should that ever happen in the future, it would be a fitting tribute to name the facility after Mark Taylor.)

The fact remains this project is being placed on the back burner – but not for the reasons that critics have been hammering away at for months.

And there are still strings left dangling, which conceivably could be picked up a year or two from now.

Maybe leaving the door open a crack isn’t a bad thing, but it would have been far better for the mayor and council to give some acknowledgement Monday night of the key arguments of those opposed.

The Y proposal is all about public money and need and timing.

Those same questions will exist when or if this project comes off “indefinite” status.