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YMCA pulling out of the Unity Center

Taxpayers could end up funding health and fitness programs

Deseret Morning News graphic

The YMCA of Greater Salt Lake, which once offered to operate Salt Lake City's Unity Center, is no longer being considered to run the center's health and fitness programs.

That means Salt Lake County tax dollars may be needed to subsidize the center's operations.

YMCA's departure leaves Salt Lake City with only one remaining private partner in the center — Guadalupe Schools — and without a provider of a health and fitness program, which was the primary service the local community wanted at the Unity Center.

And even Guadalupe Schools hasn't decided for certain whether it will participate.

The city now might have to rely on tax dollars from the county's coveted Zoos, Arts and Parks tax funds to operate health and fitness services at the Unity Center.

"We have advised the YMCA that their schedule does not fit our schedule," Salt Lake City public service director Rick Graham said. "We have informed them that we will be looking for other health and fitness partners, and we will not be having serious conversations with them anymore."

In short, Graham said, YMCA was taking too long to decide if it could afford to partner in the Unity Center — time the city doesn't have. Instead, Graham has asked the Salt Lake County Parks and Recreation Department if it is interested in providing services at the yet-to-be-built Unity Center, near 900 West and 1300 South.

At the county, which funds recreation facilities through the much-battled-for ZAP taxes, parks and recreation director Glen Lu said he is examining the situation to see if the county could run health and fitness services there at the center.

"We don't have a definite answer to what they propose," Lu said.

Lu said he isn't sure the Glendale community can support a recreation center through memberships, so the center likely would have to be subsidized through taxes — unless a corporate sponsor can be found.

"In that area, economically, it's a little more depressed than the other communities," he said.

Lu said he will do a feasibility analysis and forward his findings on to the Salt Lake County Mayor's Office, which can choose to back county involvement and forward a proposal to the County Council for a final decision.

Graham and the city's Unity Center steering committee have been under pressure to finish the center by 2005.

Alexander Morrison, executive director of the alliance, said he remains hopeful the project will be completed by 2005, since that's what donors were promised.

"I don't have any reason to believe that it's unrealistic, but it does mean they need to break ground by January," he said. "If we were a year further downstream and they didn't have anything, we would be concerned."

When the city sent out requests for proposals, six groups — Guadalupe Schools, the YMCA, Salt Lake Community College, Easter Seals of Utah, Salt Lake Civic Institute and University of Utah Career Services — expressed interest in providing services at the Unity Center. Now, only Guadalupe Schools remains.

The Alliance for Unity, an organization of community leaders put together by Salt Lake Mayor Rocky Anderson and billionaire Jon M. Huntsman Sr., raised $5 million to build the center after The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints donated two acres of land next to the Sorenson Multi-Cultural Center.

The church donated the land so the city would give up its public access easement across the church's Main Street Plaza, thus making the plaza entirely private and giving the church full control of it.