Statement by Terry Maynard
Co-Chairman, RCA Reston 2020 Committee at
RCC BOG Annual Input Meeting
February 10, 2014
Good evening Board members and fellow Restonians. I am Terry Maynard, co-chairman of the RCA Reston 2020 Committee, a committee of community volunteers that examines community planning issues. I am here this evening to speak briefly on one of those issues: The proposal to build a County Park Authority Recreation Center in Reston to be financed by Restonians through our special tax district, a proposal that is now an option in the draft Baron Cameron Park plan.
- Despite the years of effort and expense that have been put into this by RCC as well as RA and RCA, we believe that the proposal:
- Fails to demonstrate a compelling need, especially among Restonians
- Proposes to locate the center in the wrong place, more than a mile from key future Reston population centers
- Is financially unsustainable as laid out in the standards set forth by RCC’s consultants,
- Has not received an adequate capital and operating cost analysis and may be much more expensive than so far state, and
- Being a County recreation center, it should be built and operated by the County for the totality of the Hunter Mill District.
Let me explain briefly why Reston 2020 believes this is the case.
The proposal to build a Reston recreation center has been driven by a highly—even commendably—vocal small group of Restonians deeply interested in building a local indoor Olympic-sized 50-meter swimming pool and another equally fanatical group of tennis players who want indoor tennis. While the proposal for indoor tennis appears to have been set aside for the time being, there is insufficient demonstrated need to build an expensive 50-meter indoor aquatic center. The only justification provided so far are old RCC and RA surveys that are so riddled with selection bias that they have virtually no statistical validity. Moreover, two studies and an update by Bradford & Dunleavy repeatedly show that the number of core Reston users of the aquatic facility would be about 1,000-1,200 people—less than two percent of Reston’s population. Those same studies highlight that under virtually any outlined scenario, more non-Restonians than Restonians would use the recreation center’s facilities.
The RCC Board has now said twice that the preferred location for such a recreation center is at Baron Cameron Park although it says Town Center North may be an acceptable alternative. To the contrary, the unused and available Park Authority land in Town Center North sits at the center of what is planned to be the center of residential growth in all of Reston—some 12,000 residents within a half-mile, not counting homes immediately outside the Reston urban area. In contrast, the renovation of Lake Anne promises no more than about 2,000 residents in apartments and condos plus the established townhome and single-family dwellings within a half-mile. Moreover, at a time when the Park Authority is offering Baron Cameron ballfields as a place for Reston’s expanding population in its urban areas, building a recreation field there would eliminate at least two of those ballfields, a double whammy of an undersized market for the recreation center and oversized demand for the reduced number of athletic fields.
The proposal is also hampered by repeated reporting and analysis by RCC’s consultant that a Reston recreation center would be financially unsustainable. “Sustainable” in the consultants’ assessment means that the revenues generated by operating the center cover its operating costs, a recovery rate of 100%. In all the evaluations B&D has done, they have never demonstrated a recovery rate near that even after a run-up period of several years and under varying pricing assumptions. The bottom line is that the demand needed to make the center financially sustainable simply is not there in stark contrast to every other recreation center in the County for which the consultant has presented data. We believe there are two key reasons for this:
(a) There are enough other indoor Olympic-sized pools nearby, and
(b) Reston has a plethora of competitively-priced private recreation centers although admittedly none has a 50-meter pool.
The market problem is aggravated by the fact an adequate cost analysis of building a new recreation center has yet to be conducted. I appreciate that RCC’s consultants have used industry cost index standards for projecting the cost of recreation center, but these cost estimates are so far from either preliminary or final engineering cost assessments that they are more dangerous than useful. Those of us who have been following the sticker shock prices of the Silver Line’s construction as its price has tripled over the decade are keenly aware of the difference between eyeball pricing and engineering cost analyses. As an example, I would offer the planned building of a comparable aquatic center of park authority land in Arlington. Initially priced at about $40 million for bonding purposes, its projected costs rose to more than $80 million as serious cost analysis was completed. Finally, a month ago, the project was put on indefinite hold. In short, we would expect the real construction costs—and maybe the operating costs—to be substantially higher than have so far been acknowledged publicly.
Finally, given that the proposed recreation center will be a County Park Authority recreation center, not a Reston recreation center, the County should assume the responsibility for building and operating the recreation center. Just as we are paying for recreation centers throughout the County, so too should the entirety of the County pay for one in Reston, especially since the majority of users will not be from Reston. We know Park Authority spokespersons have highlighted that its bonding authority is committed for nearly a decade, but given the undersized market for Reston recreation center and the impact such a bond could have on Restonians’ budgets and community creditworthiness, we believe this recreation center can wait until the County is willing to bear the burden of its costs. Hopefully, there will also be a sufficient market to make it worthwhile then.
Thank you for your time and consideration.