Public-Private Partnership Makes Boise's Aquatic Center Possible - and Successful

City, YMCA, Area Businesses Invest in World-Class Facility

In 1990, the Boise Family YMCA was putting the finishing touches on a Strategic Plan which clearly pointed to the need for a new, state-of-the-art facility and Olympic-size indoor pool that would be the first of its kind in Southern Idaho. As the plan was circulated in the community, the initial response to its goals and the direction it provided was quite positive. But as details and costs for the new facility became known, more naysayers than supporters emerged. The YMCA plan was released at a time when several other community groups were evaluating community needs. The Boise City Comprehensive Parks and Recreation Plan had identified the need for more indoor recreation facilities, especially swimming pools; this need also had been identified earlier through the Mayor's Boise Visions process. A private group called SPLASH had formed to advocate an Olympic-size pool in the Treasure Valley, and several of the communities surrounding Boise also were expressing interest in developing swimming facilities.

The YMCA, meanwhile, moved ahead with a capital campaign feasibility study to determine whether sufficient funds could be raised to build a world-class facility. Their study showed that despite the high level of popular support that existed, they could expect to raise less than half of the facility's $13.5 million price tag. In response, one group of YMCA board members concluded that the new facility was an overly ambitious goal, but a small group of supporters continued to pursue it.

Boise's Mayor Brent Coles also had begun exploring the creation of a public-private partnership that would give the YMCA a new facility and the community its first indoor swimming pool in an area of Boise where rapid growth in recent years had outpaced City recreational services. The City had wanted to build an aquatic facility as part of a major parks development, and while the bond issue that would have financed the development did not pass, the need for the facility remained. Mayor Coles envisioned the City building a pool as part of a larger YMCA project, with the Y assuming responsibility for the operation of the facility when it was completed. The Mayor's proposal received the unanimous support of the City Council, and Boise was on its way to meeting a community need without having to commit local tax dollars to ongoing operational costs.

Community Support is Strong
To lead the fund-raising effort for the facility, the YMCA recruited two outstanding business and community leaders - Gary Michael, CEO and Chair of Albertson's, and Ray Smelek of Hewlett-Packard. First, they approached the top executives at Hewlett-Packard, Boise's largest employer, whose campus was adjacent to the proposed facility site. The company, which had surveyed its Boise employees and found a high level of interest in swimming pools, child care, gymnasiums, and family recreation - all of which would be available in the new facility - was asked to make a substantial contribution to the construction and operation of the facility. It responded with a $1.5 million pledge, the largest contribution ever made by the company outside of its headquarters state of California.

Next, the developer who owned the land surrounding H-P's campus - David Turnbull of The Brighton Corporation - was invited to join the partnership and asked to provide land for the facility at the lowest possible price. To the surprise and delight of Mayor Coles and the YMCA, Turnbull donated 10 acres - all the land needed, and in the best possible location. He later donated another 10 acres which was combined with 10 acres previously purchased by the City of Boise for a park site, and even provided additional land needed for an elementary school. When park development figures came in higher than the City expected, Turnbull again stepped in, taking on the construction of the park and saving the City $660,000.

Aquatic Center Benefits City, Region
The combined West Family YMCA and Boise City Aquatic Center opened on January 8, 1996. Mayor Coles reports that the Center, built with a combination of over $8 million raised in the community and $5 million provided by the City, is debt-free and financially sound and that the management agreement between the City and the YMCA has proven over three years to be an excellent one. Because the YMCA shoulders all operational costs of the Aquatic Center, the City saved $375,000 during the first year and $250,000 during the second year, and projects nearly $200,000 in savings by the end of the current year. "The YMCA makes a great partner with local government," says the Mayor.

Putting together all the details of an agreement and a design for a world-class aquatic facility was a long and arduous task, but Boise officials are certain that the partnership's effort is benefitting both a neighborhood where recreational services had been lacking, and the entire Treasure Valley region. From its first day of operation, the facility has been an overwhelming success, with an average of over 3,400 people visiting it each day and over 6,000 children and adults learning to swim there each year. Annually, it is used by 8,500 YMCA members and another 35,000 area residents. It hosts more than 20 swim events each year, including the Special Olympics, Senior Games, high school dual meets, the City League Championship, and the Region XII Championship - for the first time ever in Boise - in which more than 3,000 athletes compete. "I believe in the power of partnerships," says Mayor Coles, "partnerships among local government, private enterprise and nonprofit organizations which benefit the quality of life of an entire community. Other cities are looking to this model as a way of providing more recreation opportunities for youth and adults while minimizing costs to the taxpayer. Our goals and hopes and dreams for the use of this facility have been surpassed beyond belief."

 Additional information on the YMCA/Aquatic Center partnership is available from Suzanne Burton in the Office of the Mayor, (208) 384-4422, or email

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