UPDATED: YMCA project indefinitely on hold in Abbotsford

Abbotsford council votes to defer controversial project

Local businessman Fred Thiessen

Local businessman Fred Thiessen

A controversial proposal that would see the city invest $17.5 million in a YMCA facility has been deferred indefinitely.

At Monday evening’s council meeting, Mayor Bruce Banman said the proposed partnership with the YMCA, which has been in development since 2011, will not move ahead.

Banman read a letter from Stephen Butz, president and CEO of the YMCA of Greater Vancouver, expressing the organization’s condolences for the loss of the city’s general manager of parks, recreation and culture, Mark Taylor.

The YMCA project had long been championed by Taylor, who died in a skiing accident last month.

The letter stated, “in light of current circumstances, we fully recognize the need for flexibility given the capacity issues (the city manager) now faces.”

Banman said the YMCA has expressed its “wish to indefinitely withdraw their offer to build a proposed YMCA here in Abbotsford.”

The mayor’s announcement and council’s unanimous vote to defer the project, pre-empted a scheduled delegation from businessman Fred Thiessen, who was to speak against a city  contribution of $17.5 million to build a YMCA facility here.

Banman apologized to Thiessen for making the announcement prior to his presentation, asking whether he still wished to speak.

Thiessen said he was not expecting the announcement, and questioned if the original memorandum-of-understanding (MOU) with the YMCA would have to be amended due to the indefinite deferral of the project.

Banman replied that the project with the YMCA will not be moving forward at this time.

Thiessen said he unhappy with that response, and was concerned it allowed for “a change of heart.”

“I’d like to make it very clear that we are not assuming it will get done, but it will get done.”

Banman urged Thiessen to take the council’s decision at face value.

“Allow us to discuss this with the Y and figure out what becomes of the MOU.”

Banman said the YMCA understands it will take considerable time for the city to regroup following the loss of Taylor, and at this time the Y will move on to another project.

Thiessen had previously expressed his opposition to the concept at a council meeting in January, drawing a crowd of about 150 people.

The project was then delayed to allow for new city manager George Murray to evaluate the project.

The proposal called for a 55,000-square-foot facility to be built on the former MSA Hospital site on McCallum Road, owned by the Fraser Health Authority.

The proposed cost of the project was $35 million, with $17.5 million from the city, an $8 million contribution from the YMCA, $8 million in community contributions raised by YMCA, and $1.5 million from the province. The YMCA was to receive a property tax exemption, but would cover the operating costs for the building.

The YMCA, in addition to providing a recreation facility and swimming pool, would also offer community outreach and newcomer programs, after-school programs, gambling prevention, prenatal and parenting classes, English as a second language training, adult learning and computer access.

Butz previously told The News that in July 2011 the organization was approached by the city to consider the possibility of developing a local facility.

The organization commissioned a market research project and found there was justification for building a YMCA, with a total projected membership of roughly 10,000.