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City looking for donations, sponsors to offset pool shortfall

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Greenwood hasn’t figured out how to pay for a $200,000 shortfall to operate an aquatic center each summer, but one idea is to solicit advertising, sponsorships or donations.

Construction on the aquatic park inside Freedom Park is expected to start within months and has not been delayed, even though city officials recently learned the pool will not generate enough money each summer through concessions and ticket sales to pay for its own operation.

Mayor Mark Myers and some city council members plan to ask companies to pay to put their names on water slides, the concession stand and a leisure pool, in an effort to help pay for the aquatic center, he said. He said he has heard businesses are interested in sponsoring the aquatic center, but he declined to say who has told him there is interest.

The city hasn’t had formal offers of donations or sponsorships, he said.

“At this time, the council has expressed interest in going forward (with construction). I am confident we will find the funding. I believe I can do it,” Myers said.

He has talked with council members since telling them about the expected annual shortfall, but not in public meetings. The city council does not have to vote on whether to build the pool, since the redevelopment commission is funding it and has already approved the plans.

This week, the city is requesting bids from contractors to build the $10 million aquatic center with three winding slides, lap pool, lazy river and leisure pool. Construction could start in mid-May, on track for the pool to open Memorial Day weekend 2015.

Diving in

What: $10 million aquatic center

Where: Greenwood

What’s next: Request for bids from contractors this week. Hire a contractor in May, and begin construction in mid-May. Open the pool park in May 2015.

Last week, the mayor asked the city council in an email to find a way to pay for the costs of the pool park that a study shows won’t be covered by income from membership fees, day passes and party rentals. But the city council won’t need to vote on the pool project for Greenwood to hire a contractor to build the aquatic center in Freedom Park, Myers said.

The city council approved spending tax-increment financing, or TIF, money on the pool in 2012, and doesn’t have to vote again on the project because the redevelopment commission is funding it. The redevelopment commission oversees spending of TIF dollars, which are property taxes collected for economic development projects.

The goal of the city was to have the pool be self sustaining, but it’s now projected to earn $385,234 annually, with nearly $600,000 in annual operational and maintenance costs for a loss of more than $200,000.

A 45-day time frame has been set for finding funding for the pool’s operations because contractors will have 45 days to submit proposals to the city, and then Greenwood will hire a contractor in May, Myers said.

For years, city officials have said the aquatic center, if it had amenities such as water slides and a lazy river for inner tubing, could pay for itself and possibly make money for the city. One of the reasons the city in 2012 agreed to tear down its 55-year-old pool and build a new one was because the old pool was losing money, and officials thought a new one could pay for itself.

Karl Kreck, a resident who served on the city pool committee, told the city council Monday that he visited 14 or 15 pool parks and didn’t find any that were able to fund themselves fully. The city council established the pool committee to find out whether the city could build a self-sustaining aquatic center, as well as recommend where to build it.

A study by pool engineering firm Counsilman-Hunsaker, which the city released earlier this month, revealed that Greenwood’s proposed aquatic center would lose about $200,000 annually. The study also showed the city would need to pay up to $600,000 in opening expenses for initial hiring and training of employees and chemicals for treating the water, among other costs, which officials had not planned for.

The city park board and redevelopment commission last week approved the pool project’s final designs and gave permission for the city to request prices from contractors to do the work. Redevelopment commission and council member Thom Hord clarified during the commission’s meeting that the approval was for getting bids, not for construction.

The plan shows the pool sitting on about 2.5 acres at Freedom Park, with another 2.4 acres for parking nearby. The designs provide the amenities the park board wanted and are within the budget requested, park board member Tom Bridges said.

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