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The Paris City Council is looking into the possibility of negotiating with Paris Junior College the purchase of the former Aerofit fitness center as a city recreation center.
PJC acquired the center in 2012 and turned it into the Paris Junior College Recreation Center, which has a large indoor pool, exercise area, basketball court, racquet ball courts, and meeting rooms.
The center, formerly owned by Paris Regional Medical Center, is located in the 1100 block of East Austin Street, behind where the hospital was located before it moved to the north loop.
Mayor AJ Hashmi told the council Monday night that he approached PJC President Pam Anglin, but that no official talks have occurred because neither the city council nor PJC regents have signed onto to talks about the center.
Hashmi said he thinks the city could possibly buy the recreation center for approximately $400,000, which is what PJC paid for it.
In a City of Paris parks survey last year, the No. 1 vote-getter was a recreation center that could be used by all ages — youth and senior citizens alike.
Monday evening’s presentation to the council about a recreation center was by District 1 Councilman Aaron Jenkins, who ran for office two years ago with the desire to increase youth recreation facilities his No. 1 goal.
A city recreation center is one of the council’s priorities, but building one is too expensive, considering the city’s present priority of replacing decades-old water and sewer lines, Jenkins said.
“As much as we may want a recreation center, it is a costly task. The city, with all of its priorities that exist today, may not be in a position to afford such a huge expense,” Jenkins said.
“So we started looking to find ways that we can get the desired objective without a lot of expense to taxpayers,” he said.
PJC has indicated a willingness to sell Aerofit, which it acquired in 2012, Jenkins said.
Hashmi proposed selling the city’s outdoor pool on Clement Road and Northeast Loop 286 and using the proceeds to buy the former Aerofit fitness center.
At the mayor’s request, local Realtor Vic Ressler came to the podium to estimate the worth of the swimming pool property and of Aerofit.
“There is approximately 800 feet of frontage on the loop and 260 feet of frontage on Clement Road, so the property that the city pool is on has countless possibilities,” Ressler said.
He estimated that the three-acre tract that the swimming pool sits on should bring anywhere from $3 to $4.50 per square foot, based upon what similar property on Paris’ northeast loop has sold for, which would translate into approximately $400,000 to $600,000 for the property.
“The city is sitting on a very, very expensive piece of commercial property with the swimming pool,” Ressler added.
Ressler said the former Aerofit center has 18,730 square feet and the fact that it is bordered on three sides by streets makes it more valuable.
At $400,000, that’s $21.36 per square foot, he said.
“I can tell you, I couldn’t find any comps for this kind of building. You’d have to go other places. But I will tell you that at one point in 2008, this building was on the tax roll for $1.1 million,” he said.
“I can tell you that you couldn’t begin to duplicate anything like it for double or triple the cost — maybe even four times that amount. Used for what it’s intended, it’s just a no-brainer,” he added.
“It’s a bargain. It wouldn’t be a bargain if you were going to gut it and try to do something else with it. But when you look at the wood floors, the basketball court, the racquetball courts and the in-ground pool and all the other things that are already there, it’s just a no-brainer,” Ressler said.
Ressler said one of the buildings he looked at while trying to find comparable structures “was a metal exterior building that had been divided into offices. It sold in the past year. It brought $42 a square foot, nearly double what they’re asking for this one. So in terms of value, I think it’s there.”
From the way the Aerofit property is configured, there is room to build an outdoor pool. That would be a plus, he said, “because an indoor pool can’t take the place of an outdoor pool. With an indoor pool, people can’t lounge around in the sun.”
Hashmi pointed out two other positives to the potential purchase.
1. “When the hospital sold the building to PJC, it didn’t sell the land. It kept the land, but the hospital is agreeable that if the city acquires this facility, they will give that portion of the land to the city,” the mayor said.
2. “No. 2, there is a very good possibility that the large parking lot in the block east of Aerofit will come with it.”
Hashmi said there are issues that would have to be resolved, but hadn’t been pursued yet because Monday night’s presentation by Jenkins was the first the council had officially heard about the proposal.
Hashmi asked council members what they thought, then said the matter would be back on the agenda on April 14 for further discussion and possible action.
Jenkins said during his presentation that in addition to the purchase price, it would cost about $150,000 to make improvements to the 25-year-old Aerofit building, including a new roof, improvements to all the restrooms and shower stalls.
Hashmi said changes would be made to make sure the building was 100 percent ADA (Americans for Disabilities Act) compliant.
Jenkins estimated staff costs for the recreation center at $131,000 a year — $36,000 for a manager, $45,000 for 2.5 desk service personnel, and $30,000 for janitorial staff.
Overhead expenses in addition to the personnel costs would be $45,000 a year — $27,500 for electricity, $4,000 for water, $1,500 for gas, and $12,000 miscellaneous.
The total for personnel and overhead expenses would be $176,000 a year, or $14,666 a month.
Hashmi proposed monthly membership fees on a scale similar to this:
“At 2,000 members, we could be looking at $30,000 a month,” Jenkins said.
Another $5,000 a month in other income could come from local schools and churches for meeting space; training classes; and rental to local schools for their swimming teams, Jenkins said.
The mayor said he understands about 40 PJC students a day have been using the center.
Hashmi said City of Paris staff have inspected the building and are satisfied it could be brought up to the city’s requirements.
The mayor said there are some issues that have to be resolved. “but we didn’t really want to pursue this without the council’s approval on this.”
Among other things, a restricted covenant was in force for the sale to PJC, because of concern about monthly use fees that might draw customers away from Paris Fitness and Aquatic’s facility at Stillhouse Road, just east of PRMC. Some months before the sale to PJC, PF&A shut down Aerofit and moved all its operations to the north campus.
“We would need to make sure that the restrictive covenant does not apply to us,” Hashmi said.
There also is a clause in PJC’s purchase giving PF&A first right of refusal should the college decide to sell the property, the mayor said.
“If the council feels that this is a valuable or feasible thought, the next step is we should discuss with the property owner the price and go from there.”
Here are the responses of each council member to the Aerofit proposal:
District 6 Councilwoman Cleonne Drake: “Just on paper, it looks good. Having just seen this for the first time tonight, I think there are a lot more things we need to look at in greater detail. I agree it would be great for Paris to have something like this, because when businesses are looking into coming to Paris, they look at things like this. And also for our youth to have somewhere to come. The Boys Club is about the only thing they have right now that they can go to if they’re not involved in activities at school or at churches. I think there’s a need for this. I just think we need to digest it and really look at it and what the possibilities are.”
District 5 Councilman Matt Frierson: “I appreciate the presentation, but there’s some detail I would have to see as far as maintenance of the facility. I think it is a big concern that two organizations had this facility and they either got rid of it or are contemplating doing so. Certainly we want to make sure we are doing all we can for the youth and others who want to utilize it, and I can see the benefit, but I would like to have much more concrete numbers. The land that the city pool is situated on, is it deed-restricted at any point, for what we can or cannot do with it?”
District 4 Councilman Dr. Richard Grossnickle: “I think it’s an excellent idea. It certainly has the potential to do what we all in the city voted as the No. 1 request on the parks wish list, which was a recreation center. It may not be the ideal one, but it would be a very nice addition to the city. As Mr. Frierson pointed out, I hope there’s no obvious foundation cracks or serious problems with the building. Also, when this was put up for sale (two years ago), that there were restrictive covenants. The city made a few inquiries about it, and I believe (the seller) didn’t want the city to own something that would charge memberships and would take away from the facility on the north campus. Those covenants, did they transfer when PJC bought it? Will they transfer if PJC sells it? If all these things can be sorted out, I’d be willing to consider it, certainly.”
District 2 Councilwoman Sue Lancaster: “I think it’s a really good step for fulfilling what the citizens said in that study. We need a rec center. We need a place for our kids to go and be able to play basketball, or swim, or do any of those type things. I really like that the pool is enclosed, to get more use of it during the year. We’ve got a lot of kids that have time on their hands and we need some place for them to go. I just think it’s a win-win. Gosh, where can you get a $2-to-$3 million facility for that amount of money?”
District 3 Councilman John Wright: “I think the need is definitely there for such a facility. There are some things that we need to find out. It would be helpful if we could ascertain the amount we could get for the property on the loop without obligating to sell it. It would also be helpful to look at what the utility cost would be there.”
District 1 Councilman Aaron Jenkins: “I think it would be a good idea for the City of Paris to have a rec center, not only for the youth but of course for the middle people and the older.”
District 7 Councilman Dr. AJ Hashmi: “Aesthetically, it’s not very pretty inside, and it will require some renovation before you would say this is some place you want to go, but it has a basketball court, racquet ball courts, the large indoor pool. I think we do need a rec center. I think it’s a good idea. Certainly this is cheaper than what we can ever build, so I am in favor of it. The facility has been run differently by PJC than how the city would run it. It is perfectly functional right now, but not conducive to having one or two thousand members, and so it requires some work. The number of students who utilize it is about 40 a day, something like that. One thing I’d like to point out is that the pool is used by the schools’ swimming teams, and they pay for that. It can be used by churches, because there is plenty of space.”
By Charles Richards, eParisExtra