PALMETTO -- It's not news that Palmetto will soon have a four-diamond youth baseball field near the corner of 23rd Street and 10th Ave., but at last week's city commission meeting the idea of adding a YMCA acquatic sports center with an Olympic-sized swimming pool to the site was also mentioned. Last night, at this week's Palmetto City Commission work session, the aquatic center idea was discussed in greater detail.
Baseball field construction will require moving (realigning) 23rd Street where it runs along the edge of the property where the ball fields will be built. Adding a YMCA aquatic facility will also require building a stretch of 10th Avenue between 23rd Street and 17th Street, a construction job which was not included in the original baseball field plans or budget.
There is no firm commitment from the YMCA to build a Palmetto facility at this point, but Mayor Shirley Groover Bryant is confident that it will get built sooner or later, and says the YMCA "is willing to give us a letter of commitment" as long as the city promises to do the 10th Avenue work the YMCA says will be needed to accomodate traffic to and from the aquatic center's parking lot.
The YMCA center may attract as much as $2.5 million in additional grant money beyond what is needed to finance the construction of the ballfields and the originally-planned 23rd Street construction work. City Clerk James Freeman noted that including the YMCA in the proposed project "gives us grant opportunities not otherwise available to us" because it might create up to 50 new jobs.
Mayor Bryant has talked to Capital Philanthropy Group (corporate motto: "Granting a better tomorrow") about preparing grant applications for the additional $2.5 million. Bryant says the deal she has worked out with Capital includes a $22,500 advance payment plus another $22,500 if Capital manages to score the entire $2.5 million. Capital will also apply for smaller public and private grants on Palmetto's behalf, including some from Lowe's and The Home Depot, and will get a second payment of as little as $6000 if all they can bring in is $100,000 -- with a sliding scale between that amount and the full $22,500 second payment if they bring in more than $100,000 but do not manage to bring in the hoped-for $2.5 million.
Commissioner Tambra Varnadore was not pleased about Palmetto being "on the hook" for $22,500 whether or not any additional grant money comes through. She pointed out that of the three parties -- the other two are Manatee County and the School Board -- involved in the whole baseball field (and now potential aquatic facility) deal, the city of Palmetto is the smallest one and has the smallest budget.
After a bit of back-and-forth wrangling, Bryant said, "Nobody is going to write the grant for free," and that "this is the best deal we've come across."
(Later, in a private conversation with The Bradenton Times, Bryant admitted that yes, she probably could get someone to write grant proposals for free, but that "these people have a great track record." And since the point of grant applications is to get grants, not just to fill out forms, Bryant said she felt it was both worthwhile and prudent to hire well-recommended professionals to handle this task.)
With or without the YMCA, the baseball fields will be built on schedule
City clerk Freeman and planning consultant Tom McCollum told the commissioners that adding bid specs for the 10th Avenue work to the original two proposals would only take an extra week or 10 days, and that the advertising money they'd save by running legally-required notices for all three at the same time was worth the short delay.
Freeman said the city would contract for the 23rd Ave. realignment and ballfield construction whether or not money for the 10th Avenue work or the aquatic center came in. No matter what happened with the YMCA and the grant people, he promised, 23rd Avenue would be moved and the ballfields would be built and ready for play by their scheduled opening date in February, 2011.
And that, said Bryant, is still the main objective of all this work: "To get that road moved and have the kids playing ball."