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Posted on Mon, Nov 28, 2011 : 5:59 a.m.

Can the proposed Water Street rec center run at a profit? Officials cite Ann Arbor facility and say 'Yes'

By Tom Perkins


The Parks and Recreation Commission is proposing a rec center on the northwest corner of the Water Street property.

Tom Perkins | For

The Washtenaw County Parks and Recreation Commission is proposing a new recreation center for Ypsilanti’s Water Street property, which would be the Commission’s second rec center in the county.

The Meri Lou Murray Rec Center has served Ann Arbor and central Washtenaw County for the last 20 years. The purpose of the new center is to provide the same and even more recreational options to residents east of U.S. 23.

But has Meri Lou operated in the black in recent years? And would taxpayers be subsidizing the proposed $10 to $15 million rec center officials say will serve as the centerpiece in a series of parks linked by the eastern Washtenaw County Border to Border Trail?

The answer isn’t totally black and white, but officials said they consider Meri Lou a financial success and say the proposed center would be as well.

Washtenaw Parks and Recreation Department Executive Director Bob Tetens provided a financial report that showed Meri Lou running a $235,000 deficit in 2009, a $35,000 deficit in 2010 and a $21,000 deficit so far in 2011.

But the bottom line fluctuates based on personnel costs, which Tetens said are fluid because of the organizational layout of the Parks and Recreation Department. For example, some full time employees seasonably based at parks have less work depending on the season or weather and will spend time working at Meri Lou.

That means employees are shuffled in and out of the Meri Lou budget annually, though the other costs and revenues remain fairly steady.

In 2009, Meri Lou’s personnel costs were $1.03 million while in 2010 that figure dropped to $834,000. Tetens said the Parks and Recreation Department and Meri Lou didn’t cut staff, but saw a greater need at other county-owned parks and centers.

In 2009 and 2010, Meri Lou brought in approximately $1.25 million from its estimated 5,000 annual cardholders and daily users who collectively made around 340,000 visits. The center is on pace to match those numbers in 2011.

Any deficit is covered by revenue generated from the Parks and Recreation Department’s .25 operational millage, which generates over $3 million annually.

Tetens highlighted Meri Lou’s membership’s rates, which he said are around 25-percent of the cost of several other area recreation centers. Members pay $200 annually.

Raising membership fees could easily boost Meri Lou solidly into the black, Tetens said, but the Parks and Recreation Commission has opted to keep the center more affordable.

“It’s the philosophy of the commission to provide as much access to the facility as we can, and if we raised our membership by $50 to appear to be balanced, we would be cutting some people out who couldn’t afford it anymore,” he said. “The commission deliberately keeps the rate low so we can give the broader section of the community the opportunity to use the center. We are reluctant to get into increasing (rates).”

Tetens also said Meri Lou offered seniors over 80-years-old free memberships until last year when it was found 426 residents over 80 held memberships. Their rate was increased to $50 annually.

The Parks and Recreation Department has also undertaken major renovation projects at Meri Lou in recent years, including installing a new boiler, a new envelope for the building, and duct work.

Parks and Recreation also refinishes the gym floor annually, put in new tiles this year, added new video screens and have generally kept the center state of the art, Tetens said.

“We take great pride in providing a high quality facility at the absolute lowest price we can be sustainable at,” he said.

But the County likely wouldn't manage the Water Street center. The YMCA is the most likely partner, and the County is envisioning an arrangement similar to the Southgate YMCA, which was built by the community but managed by the YMCA.

Details on how much membership would cost or if it would be similar to Meri Lou’s prices have yet to be worked out, Tetens said, but he is confident the center they have envisioned would attract people.

“We wouldn’t propose it if we didn’t think it could be successful. That’s the bottom line,” he said.



Sun, Dec 4, 2011 : 11:27 a.m.

I will say this. This is not what the City of Ypsilanti needs. The city council needs to chuck the idea of allowing the county to build a rec center there. 1) Cost will be too high. 2) Large buildings like that in that neighborhood will only bring out the hood rats and the place will look like the streets of LA in no time. Here's a bright idea.....give LOCAL BUSINESSES a cut and let them build a new place there in downtown!!! I realize that parks and recreation area's are nice and all, but Ypsilanti already has a couple of parks and one is not needed downtown. What is needed there is LOCAL BUSINESSES!!! Everyone should be up in arms about this proposed building of a county building. For so many years, the steel plant, and then thermifil provided jobs to the area of downtown. The train still rain. Now there is nothing. Drugs and prostitution run ramped in that area and I'm really surprised that the businesses that are there have stayed. Bring jobs to the city. Ypsilanti use to be a thriving little town, but between thugs and drugs and low income housing, the city has just tanked. Thanks city council for that. Being more worried more about low income housing and AATA bus services rather than focusing on jobs and business they have again FAILED. Sad. Say no to the County Rec Center.


Fri, Dec 2, 2011 : 12:19 a.m.

Well Need exercise ...Go for walks , clean you yard etc etc, for therapie go to the local Hospitals, chiroprater and local therapie centers, for strokes.heart etc etc... best also the doctors will be close ....which are cover by insurance......if you have insurance... Over 80 have to pay...mmmh over 90 ,,,over 100... better IDEE install SOLAR PANELS and Make MONEY for the city , etc , best Offer to get out of debt NOW..


Tue, Nov 29, 2011 : 2:16 a.m.

Wait, Rebecca Warren doesn't believe in profit. Maybe a constitutional amendment is in order so that any government entity should be prohibited from 'profiteering'.


Mon, Nov 28, 2011 : 8:39 p.m.

MIke D- The WCC facility is run by a for profit independent company that has nothing to do with the college, county or taxpayers. Sure we built the building, but that's as far as it goes. Please let's just build something there.

Bob Krzewinski

Mon, Nov 28, 2011 : 8:14 p.m.

On the talk that the funds the Washtenaw County Parks and Recreation Commission uses for its projects could be better used for things such as police, fire departments, roads, etc., it should be noted that Washtenaw County voters over and over again have overwhelmingly voted to tax themselves for recreational projects by the Commission. The money raised by the tax millage, by law, can only be used for park facilities. While many people cannot travel on exotic vacations, they can go to parks, trails and recreation centers locally, and these same people continue to vote to fund the Washtenaw County Parks and Recreation Commission. So if it upsets you so much that the Commisson is spending money on parks, recreation centers and the like, start a ballot drive to de-fund and shut down the Commission. Good luck, though, as most people seem to want parks and recreation facilities.


Mon, Nov 28, 2011 : 8:13 p.m.

I think another rec center is warranted. Meri Lou is great. I use the facility every day, but this time of year it becomes overcrowded. You have to wait to use equipment for very long periods. You can't find parking. Many of my rec center pals have left for other facilities because of this. The annual fee is great, but in some ways not worth it if you have to take 2 hours to do a 1 hour workout.

Andrew Jason Clock

Mon, Nov 28, 2011 : 6:45 p.m.

This has got to be the dumbest article I have read so far, Mr. Perkins, another attempt to create a "gotcha" story where none exists. The proposed rec center would be a public service paid for by a millage dedicated to recreation. Of course we want to see it be revenue positive, but at the end of the day, Washtenaw residents have overwhelmingly voted to support funding this sort of project since 1976! Its not stealing from roads, public safety, or anything else. And, no, its not going to compete against college rec centers that cater to students. To there is no public facility of this type on the east side, and Wastenaw Parks &Rec says they have the data that shows the need for one. Its great if public institutions can turn a profit, but its not suppers to be a prerequisite. Or would you like to gave to start writing a check to the fire department before they'll rescue your family? As to giving away tax value, or selling it to private interests, have you been paying attention? We stopped collecting taxes on it 10 years ago, when the city purchased it in order to turn it over to a private developer. It failed. We've been waiting ever since for another private developer to save us. Currently, there are no interested parties. So how much longer should we wait? The county is trying to throw us a bone here. We would be morons to pass it up. Its a lot better than what we will get if we wait until we're appointed an efm. Just ask the folks in Pontiac how it felt to have the Silver Dome sold for pennies on the dollar.


Fri, Dec 2, 2011 : 12:29 a.m.

The peolpe in pontiac had a good deal over $ 2 Million...but the politc had a good deal with Canada for lees then $ 500 000...DA ada


Mon, Nov 28, 2011 : 5:50 p.m.

Meri Lou is a fantastic facility, in that it provides a much more affordable alternative to for-profit rec centers- a whole lot cheaper than the WCC facility, or the downtown Y, which at $50 a month, per person, are completely out of the question for even the average Ypsilanti family. I don't get this "conservative"/ accountant's tunnel-vision mindset that each individual entity like this needs to "make money" on its own; everything we do to promote fitness and a healthier lifestyle will save us far more in the long run than a relatively small subsidy for a facility like this that will serve a whole lot of kids that are already starting out in life with two strikes against them, and a whole lot of seniors that don't have transportation and can't handle a half-hour bus ride each way to Meri Lou. Likewise, more kids doing something positive with their time instead of out causing trouble equals less need for police services. And the Water Street location is good in that it's within walking distance or a short shuttle bus ride from poor neighborhoods and senior apartments. I really don't think it would even compete that much with Meri Lou because, let's face it, those that have the transportation to get to Meri Lou now will continue going there versus a rec center on the fringes of a not-so-great area of Ypsilanti.

Ron Granger

Mon, Nov 28, 2011 : 5 p.m.

Ypsi government has Ann Arbor envy. They think they are Ann Arbor. That is a path to on-going failure.

Tyler Weston

Mon, Nov 28, 2011 : 3:39 p.m.

To anybody that is reading this article I want you to strip away politics, money, and previous frusturations for just one moment. Now I want you to think about a young man lets call him Tony. Tony is in 7th grade and he didnt make the Ypsilanti Middle School Team this year, not due to his talent but because he didnt have the support from his parent and the encouragement needed to play on a team. So, because of this defeat and inability for him better his situation he becomes rebellious. Tony turns to the street for his examples of how to live because they can relate to him. By the time Tony gets into high school he has already been caught stealing and breaking and entering. He now wears a teather around his ankle on his walk to school and when he gets there he is just looking for a way out. Now what if Tony after not making his Middle School Team still had an outlet by spending his time afterschool in a program at the Rec Center. Maybe just maybe Tony finds a good role model at the Rec Center and things start looking up for him. Maybe this role model at the center encorages him to make a better effort next year. Maybe Tony becomes a great athelete and when he heads into high school teather-less he is excited to learn. Kids like Tony exist in Ypsilanti I know because I help run both YMCA and Special Olympics programs in this City and see this very often. Please give the people and children of Ypsilanti consideration when posting your comments. Thank you :D


Mon, Nov 28, 2011 : 5:44 p.m.

Who's going to pay for Tony to go to the Rec center. I don't think the citizen of ypsi will. They are having a hard enough time feeding themselves. Sounds like Tony needs both a Mom and Dad at home.


Mon, Nov 28, 2011 : 3:09 p.m.

This is a great idea and would be an awesome thing for downtown Ypsilanti. The money used for this project could not, under any circumstances, be used for police or firefighters or for filling potholes. A recreation/fitness center would set the tone for the kind of development the City has wanted all along.


Mon, Nov 28, 2011 : 5:40 p.m.

Do you really think the people of Ypsi will pay to use this? Ypsi is not the affluent city it once was(100 years ago). I just dont see it ever making money.

Thomas Craft

Mon, Nov 28, 2011 : 3 p.m.

Have you checked the cost of those private fitness places? I surely can't afford them! Without the MLM Rec. Center I would not be getting the exercise that my doctor says that I need. Most folks could use a little exercise, right? This awesome facility is used by a considerable number of folks who have suffered stroke, heart or other physical injury. They need facilities like MLM for therapeutic reasons. This is exactly the kind of service that government should be providing for it's citizens. It's hard to understand the complainers who think that mindless slashing is the answer to every problem. The "deficit" was $21,000. The population of Washtenaw County is 350,000. We are getting great value for the pennies that we taxpayers spend every year on the Rec. Center. At that price, build two more! It's a bargain!


Mon, Nov 28, 2011 : 5:14 p.m.

Good points. I used it often when I lived nearby. It is a great facility and is quite popular. Very reasonable fees.

Leah Gunn

Mon, Nov 28, 2011 : 2:47 p.m.

This project is financed by the county wide Parks and Recreation millage which was first passed in 1976, and has been renewed overwhelmingly twice. It is entirely separate from the county's general fund budget, so any remarks about the county's general fund budget are not relevant. The Board of Commissioners has no jurisdiction over this department excepti for appointing their board members, all of who have done an outstanding job in providing an excellent county parks system. The millage, by law, can ONLY be used for Parks and Recreation projects and development. As it is, taxpayers, through this millage, are already footing the bill for all of the facilities run by the county Parks & Rec. Dept., and have indicated their satisfaction with that model three times at the voting booth.


Mon, Nov 28, 2011 : 2:13 p.m.

Why not just skip this project and give the money back to the people and let the business people develop the property?

City Confidential

Tue, Nov 29, 2011 : 12:38 a.m.

There was no bank involved. The city sold municipal bonds to pay for the property and the bond holders have the right to sue for compensation if they are not paid. Any "gift" would come directly out of the pocket of the property tax payer.


Mon, Nov 28, 2011 : 5:33 p.m.

Ypsilanti does not own the property. They took a loan from the bank. But I agree with you. Let private business take it. I would even vote for an extension of riverside park but we all now that probably is impossible with the current financial situation ypsi is in.


Mon, Nov 28, 2011 : 5:27 p.m.

Really? What's stopping "the business people" from developing the site? Are you saying that the county should give $21,000 of taxpayer money to a private, for profit business?


Mon, Nov 28, 2011 : 5:13 p.m.

Maybe because it isn't happening and needs a boost?

average joe

Mon, Nov 28, 2011 : 1:50 p.m.

Except for the city of Ypsi 'giving' away property, I'm not for or against the proposed facility. I do question the fiscal thought process of "..officials (who) said they consider Meri Lou a financial success...", when their financial report shows a running deficit (at least) the last three years. I don't understand the method of rationalizing the personel costs as being fluid because some employees are shuffled in & out of Meri Lou. If the personel costs are indeed needed at Meri Lou, & are added to that facility's cost of operation, then there is nothing really 'fluid' here. (key word being "needed") With all deficits obviously covered by the operational millage, how much more can this fund handle by adding a new facility, before the county comes back to the voters and asks for a higher rate?


Mon, Nov 28, 2011 : 5:11 p.m.

It might be a good idea for the city to go along. An attractive popular facility can draw satellite business in the same area. Is that not what the Water St. project was intended to do?


Mon, Nov 28, 2011 : 1:31 p.m.

if there is not money for police,fire, and roads there shouldn't be money for a rec. center but it's a good PR gimmick isn't it for the politicians?


Mon, Nov 28, 2011 : 1:28 p.m.

Not like there aren't more important things the county could be spending money on... "The answer isn't totally black and white, but officials said they consider Meri Lou a financial success and say the proposed center would be as well." Typical government accounting. Apparently running a deficit for 3+ years is a financial success and creating competition from within is supposed to make both the new one and the current one a success.


Fri, Dec 2, 2011 : 12:33 a.m.

Meri Lou might have a good financial success ..but the city of ypsi owns $ 52. Million on how long before that debt is payed and to whom does the city own the debt/Really like to know..


Mon, Nov 28, 2011 : 5:09 p.m.

In govt spending there is nothing wrong with running a deficit, it is quite common. Your police, fire, road, utility, etc all run at a "deficit" per se since they bring in little or no revenue. A facility like this brings in revenue lessening the amount of tax dollars needed to support it. That becomes a problem when that deficit reaches a critical level. Keep in mind that citizens can choose where taxes are spent and if they find a minimal deficit acceptable in return for whatever service a municipality provides, that is govt at work. My concern in re of this project is what Mike D. notes. Another gym could very likely draw members from the original facility and thus create a large deficit created by both buildings. The county has to be very careful with this. However, the Meir Lou gym is very popular and very crowded at times so adding another may draw members that stay away because of the crowding.


Mon, Nov 28, 2011 : 1:17 p.m.

I would rather see Washtenaw County use our tax money for the benefit of the taxpayers than for the benefit of the Board of Commissioners and the administrators. Let's forget fat raises and travel and spend the money to benefit the people paying taxes.


Mon, Nov 28, 2011 : 7:18 p.m.

TC....Umm, that's my point. I am in favor of it.


Mon, Nov 28, 2011 : 5:29 p.m.

Umm, the Rec. Center IS for the benefit of the citizens.

Mike D.

Mon, Nov 28, 2011 : 12:36 p.m.

This facility would compete directly with WCC's rec center and draw people from Pittsfield Township who would otherwise go to Meri Lou, cutting its revenue. If any of the three weren't profitable, taxpayers would foot the bill. Here's how I'd rather spend my tax dollars: roads that don't blow up my tires, sufficient police so women aren't raped and shop owners aren't beaten up, and basic services like trash collection. I can't think of anything less sensible than multiple county organizations competing with each other, using our tax dollars as insurance against insolvency.


Mon, Nov 28, 2011 : 4:41 p.m.

Parks & Rec. is funded by a dedicated millage which can't be spent as you suggest.

Tyler Weston

Mon, Nov 28, 2011 : 3:55 p.m.

I would argue that one way to solve our problem of women getting raped and shop owners beaten up, is to invest in the youth of our community. And providing this space in Ypsilanti will make a positive impact on young people in the Ypsilanti community in giving them a positive outlet for their energy and an opportunity to be mentored by instructors. Lets stop making temporary and costly fixes to long term problems. I would rather invest in a young man or woman, than invest in another police officer personally.