Billionaire donor for new city gymnasium revealed – and his money comes with strings attached | News


If Palo Alto were to accept tens of millions of dollars from a donor to build a new gymnasium, it would also have to expedite the project approval process and give the donor a say in selecting a contractor. and the layout of the gymnasium. .

These are the stipulations that billionaire donor, developer and philanthropist John Arrillaga attached to his offer to give $30 million or more for the construction of the gymnasium, a project that was recently identified by the Parks and Recreation Commission of the city as a priority for the city. . The city currently does not have a public gym, although it does lease gym space at the Cubberley Community Center from the Palo Alto Unified School District.

A report the city released Thursday identifies Arrillaga for the first time as the donor who offered to contribute to the project last December. He also clarifies that if the city accepted the gift, it would have to abide by Arrillaga’s rules. This means that Arrillaga is contributing to the basic design and footprint of the new gymnasium and foregoing the typical bidding process for construction in favor of Arrillaga’s shortlisted contractor.

The city is also expected to contribute around $10 million for the project, with Arrillaga picking up the rest of the bill for what would be a two-story “wellness center” with an estimated price tag of $35-40 million.

The proposed gymnasium in some ways exceeds the facility the Parks and Recreation Commission had in mind, which had an estimated cost of about $25 million, according to an analysis by the commission’s ad hoc committee. In its recommendation, the commission called for a gymnasium with three courts that could accommodate a variety of sports, including basketball, volleyball, pickleball, indoor soccer, badminton and table tennis. The facility would also include exercise rooms for classes and smaller meeting rooms.

Jeff LaMere, a parks commissioner who served on the ad hoc committee, told a November hearing on the project that the gymnasium can be “an anchor of health and wellness for this community.” .

Palo Alto City Councilman Tom DuBois, who spoke to Arrillaga in December about his offer, said the donor’s proposal was very much in line with that vision. The new report notes that the two-level design currently proposed by Arrillaga “would provide the opportunity to incorporate many other complementary uses, such that the facility could be described as a ‘wellness center’ rather than a mere gymnasium”.

Arrillaga is well known both for his philanthropy and for his hands-on approach to the projects he funds. He was a major private donor to the Menlo Park Public Gymnasium, which opened at the city’s Civic Center in 2010, and is known for contributing to numerous athletic facilities at Stanford University, many of which bear his name.

However, his hands-on approach wasn’t always appreciated in Palo Alto. In 2012, Arrillaga proposed a project at 27 University Ave. which included four office towers and a theater. The proposal, which was presented and developed behind closed doors, exploded once made public, with many residents lambasting the city for its lack of transparency. This view was also reflected in a scathing 2014 Santa Clara County Grand Jury Report, titled “The City of Palo Alto’s Actions Reduced Transparency and Prevented Public Participation and Scrutiny on Issues.” important land”.

The city tried to avoid the same problem this time around by immediately announcing Arrillaga’s offer, even though his identity was only revealed this week. The city’s new report makes it clear, however, that the donor has little patience for the city’s typically lengthy approval and design process. The report notes that Arrillaga “expressed a strong desire for the project to move forward expeditiously.”

“This would likely require expediting the selection of a preferred location, which would then be evaluated in detail alongside environmental clearance and community engagement on programming priorities,” the report said. “Similarly, design acceleration and other approvals could be considered, potentially with a view to commencing construction in the coming year.”

Council will consider the proposed gymnasium at its January 31 meeting. If he decides to play ball with Arrillaga, he will need to identify $10 million from city coffers to contribute to the project, as well as ways to pay for consultants, utilities and furnishings.

The gymnasium would likely compete for funding with other infrastructure projects the city is looking to build, including a new skate park, improvements to the city’s animal shelter, new dog parks and park restrooms and a history museum on Homer Avenue.

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