Emails reveal Y officials asked if Bettendorf had fitness center appraised; city says it didn't seek an independent appraisal to avoid the expense

One of the first questions YMCA of the Mississippi Valley officials asked about a possible deal to buy the Bettendorf Life Fitness Center was if the city had done a real estate appraisal to determine the market value of the 72,000-square-foot facility and its 3-acre site along Middle Road.

"No, there has not," was the email response from Bettendorf City Administrator Decker Ploehn.

That exchange occurred in mid-December 2021, according to emails obtained by under a Freedom of Information (FOI) request to the city. Over the ensuing nine months, the city has not sought an appraisal to determine the current market value of the facility.

Under state law, an appraisal is not required if the city conducts a public hearing on the sale of public property. That public hearing on the sale of the life fitness center for $1.4 million – the county's assessed value which has changed little over the past four years – is scheduled for the city council's Oct. 4 meeting.

City officials in response to questions about the emails obtained by said using the county's assessed value saved the city from spending money on an appraisal. But by not having a real estate appraiser estimate the actual market value of property, the city could be giving away far more taxpayer dollars than the cost of an appraisal.

"Given the structure of the transaction, which includes the Shared Use Agreement as a condition to the Real Estate Purchase Agreement, utilizing the assessed value as a measure of fair market value made sense," according to the city's statement.

City officials also contend it was the Y that wanted to link the fitness center purchase to the waterpark project across Middle Road.

But emails indicate the Y was open to a number of ways to structure the fitness center purchase or lease, and openly wondered how the waterpark would be part of a deal for the life fitness center.

"Josh (Whitson, chief operating officer of the Y) and I have been talking about the Bettendorf projects and how this might work," Y President and CEO Brad Martell wrote in a Dec. 9, 2021 email to Ploehn and Director of Parks and Recreation Kim Kidwell.

"I thought it would be best to send a list of questions to start the process rather than getting to the meeting and not giving your team a chance to process these.
• Buy outright from the city, the YMCA would have full control of the building and its uses.
• YMCA buys the building with limitations on what programming they can do on the tennis side.
• 20 years lease that would match the pool agreement, the city could lease the tennis side out for income and lease the other side to the YMCA. (Details would have to be worked out on upkeep and amount of lease).
• Would the child-care center be a different lease if the city pays to upgrade it?
• If the YMCA buys the building would we be responsible for the capital cost upgrade of the child-care center?
• How does the outdoor water park tie into all of this?

"We really do not know what options are best for both sides, just thought this might start the process of expectations for both parties, and what would work best. Thanks, looking forward to see how this might work."

An analysis of the FOI emails over the past year shows:

• City officials, not the Y, sought to link the sale of the fitness center with the approval of construction for a new waterpark across Middle Road from the fitness center. That move enabled the city to claim the Y's payment of $1.4 million for the fitness center would then be considered part of the Y's contribution to the waterpark project. What it essentially does is give the Y the fitness center at no cost.

• Initial discussions between the Y's president Martell and City Administrator Decker Ploehn led Martell to believe the Y could buy the fitness center for only $1 million, $400,000 less than even the assessed value of the property.

• Contrary to the city narrative that tennis operations at the fitness center are a money-losing activity, net income from the tennis program operation last year was more than $108,000. Net income from the tennis operations has been in the black for at least the last four years, adding $80,066 in fiscal 2018-19, $68,280 in fiscal 2019-20 and $97,101 in fiscal 2020-21 to city revenues. Based on those numbers given to the Y, the Y's Martell indicated to city officials it probably would keep operating the tennis program even after obtaining the facility.

• City officials have pushed hard to sell and turn over the life fitness center to the Y by January 1. By completing the transaction before the end of the year, the Y can substantially lower its expenses for programs now using rented space at the TBK Bank Sports Complex. The Y's contract for that space at TBK expires at the end of the year.

• Even though the council has yet to vote on the fitness center sale, remodeling of the city's community center along State Street already is under way to house employees to be moved from the fitness center. Neither the remodeling plan, nor the expenses for the work, have been discussed by the council.

• The city's employee benefit costs will increase by an estimated $25,000 when the fitness center is sold to the Y. That's because many city employees now use the facility free of charge under the employee wellness program. Use of the facility after the sale will require a Y membership by city employees.

• Consultants for the city provided estimates for the waterpark pegging the cost at $20 million (the ice rink estimate was $3 million). Those figures included design and engineering expenses which were later excluded from project when the city publicly announced the project. By deleted any design or engineering costs, the estimate for the waterpark was trimmed to $18.7 million. City officials have said they are exploring in-house options to do the design/engineering. However, a design and engineering contract between RDG Planning and Design of Des Moines and the city was worked out in June, but has yet to be brought before the council. It calls for a 6.8 percent fee ($1.4 million) for the "full services design and engineering services" for the waterpark and ice rink. City officials responding to email questions said the RDG contract will be on the Oct. 4 council agenda for approval, immediately after the sale/waterpark project vote.

• The city in January signed a design/consulting contract with RDG and has paid the firm $25,000. Another $4,200 has been paid to the ice rink consultant.

• Estimates for actual use/attendance at the waterpark have ranged from 700 to 1,700 per day. Y officials in the emails to city officials weren't overly optimistic the completed waterpark will be profitable, and their hope is the waterpark will generate additional memberships as a way to make the project a success.

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