The city of Paducah's recreation and aquatics center project is gaining momentum, but the owner of the Paducah Athletic Club is concerned about the possible negative repercussions for his and other local fitness centers.
"It'll be a huge impact for our business," PAC owner Wes Hagan told The Sun Thursday. "We're pretty much the only aquatics facility in Paducah, and it's been that way for awhile. It's pretty upsetting."
With a prospective budget of roughly $20 million, the city is planning to start building the two-story, 77,000 square-foot facility this fall. The most current blueprints feature a natatorium, including a competition swimming pool, warm water therapy pool, two-story flume slide, locker rooms, lobby area, child watch area, gymnasium, climbing features, storage space, tenant space for potential community partners, flex space, concessions and restrooms.
Paducah Mayor Brandi Harless, who co-owns Citizen's Gym in downtown Paducah with husband Adam Moyers, is adamant about trying to decrease the amount of competition this publicly-funded center will have with private businesses.
"When you boil it all down to its parts, the purpose of this center is to be a community wellness center, and we want it to have a lot of the things in it that we don't have independently in the rest of our community," Harless said. "I actually pushed back on the designers asking them to scale back the fitness area.
"I keep pushing back on a regular basis," she continued. "I don't know what kind of equipment they're going to propose yet -- we haven't gotten to that point -- but when we get there I'm going to continue to push back so we can keep supporting our local gyms."
Hagan is also concerned for taxpayers.
"A small group of people have an interest in this pool. It's not going to pay for itself and when they talk about using taxpayers' money -- people don't want to pay that," he explained. "They don't want to see their taxes increase for a pool that they're never going to use."
The Paducah Swim Team -- the same group that has been asking the city for the proposed facility -- approached Hagan in 2000, offering to raise and contribute $100,000 toward the construction of what was, at the time, projected to cost $750,000. PAC's pool wound up costing $1.5 million to build. Hagan and the PAC are still $1 million in debt.
The reason for the debt? Lack of interest and use by the public at the PAC's aquatic facility.
"Look at Rowton Tennis Center and the Sports Plex..... neither could survive and there is a reason for that. I would argue, swimming is less attractive to the general public than those two facilities," Hagan wrote in a Jan. 24 email to the Paducah City Commission. "If you had consulted us, we could have been the first to warn you about the mistake of even entertaining such an idea in aquatics."
In addition to the McCracken County High School Swim Team and the Paducah Swim Team, Hagan thinks it "would be stretching to even say 10%" of his over 5,000 members use the pool part of his facility.
While Moyers is unsure of exactly what effect the city's recreation and aquatics center will have on Citizen's Gym, he does see the opportunity for public benefit.
"It could potentially have a slight negative effect … but I don't see it as a negative, even if it does impact the business a little bit because it's something that's needed in this city," Moyers said.
City Commissioner Richard Abraham -- who voted to award Lose Design a $1.12 million design contract for the center in August but has subsequently been the lone dissenting vote in recent aquatic center matters -- said Thursday he is "absolutely" against the construction of the center and doesn't see the need for it.
"I've always a stance that our job description is essential services, safety, balanced budget, and creating an environment where entrepreneurs in the private sector can feel that they can take a chance on the environment that we've created and pursue it," Abraham said. "I don't think we should be in the business of competing with the private sector.
"We have more pressing needs to be taken care of, like the stormwater issue we have."
Abraham is of the opinion that already existing gyms around the city and the fitness centers available at local churches could meet many of the community's wellness needs.
The commissioner is also apprehensive about the investment on the city's part and the potential burden for taxpayers.
"So basically what we're saying to the taxpayers of the city is that we're going to do this risky business and we hope everything plays out like we drew it up on the chalkboard in the locker room where it's a touchdown every time, but if it doesn't happen that way -- if the Friends of the Parks don't come up with the $10 million they've set a goal to raise or if these other businesses don't donate --then you'll pay for it," he said. "There's no sense in sugarcoating it, because that's exactly what's going to happen."