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The Virginian-Pilot(Norfolk, VA.)

Anyone seeking proof that swimming improves stamina just had to show up at the Virginia Beach City Council meeting Tuesday night.

Speaker after speaker took to the podium for about an hour debating whether the city should give away 10 acres of land to YMCA in exchange for an Olympic-sized swimming pool and a new fitness compound. "Debate" may be a stretch, because the result was as inevitable as a Michael Phelps win in the 200-meter breaststroke.

The first dozen or so speakers came primarily from the TIDE Swimming team, a local organization that since 1988 has been training thousands of local swimmers, helping many to national recognition. It's a good organization and an important part of the community.

That is beyond debate. Men, women, old and young spoke passionately about the organization, the great relationships they've gained from swimming and the importance of having a world-class pool in Virginia Beach. Some emphasized that a new pool will draw swimming competitions from around the region, boosting tourism and hotel dollars.

Dan Bannon, 14, joined TIDE when he was 7 and has been swimming with the group ever since. He gave one of the most heart-felt speeches of the evening, recounting practice sessions that stretched for hours, stressing how important a new 50-meter pool would be not just for him and the group, but for the entire community.

"I truly believe swimming has shaped me into the person I am today,'' Dan said.

What got drowned out in the night was any real opposition or questions about the process. The YMCA leadership and supporters masterfully linked the Tides likeable and laudable goals and members to the push for the new pool.

For years the YMCA has been promising to build an indoor heated Olympic-sized pool, and was the only bidder when the city called for proposals.

But the YMCA changed its mind, saying it couldn't afford to build an indoor pool, at least not right away. It would build an enclosure someday, without promising a date. The city never reopened the bidding process to see if anyone else could offer Virginia Beach taxpayers a better deal under the new conditions.

Jerry Donnelly has been a vocal critic of the YMCA and the pool plans. He has a self-interest, as owner of OneLife Fitness centers, but he insists the new deal is a bad one for taxpayers more than it is for his business.

He asked the council to put five conditions in writing before giving away $3 million worth of public property. First and foremost, he wanted the Y's promise to eventually cover the pool put in writing.

Only one council member agreed. John Moss praised the Tide team, then got down to business.

"We haven't demanded enough sacrifice from the financial side of the YMCA,'' Moss said. "I think it is a material defect that we aren't holding them to a date certain. I don't care if it's three years, five years, 10 years. But I want a date in writing that they will have an indoor pool.''

The vote passed 9-1, with Moss objecting and Mayor Will Sessoms on vacation.


February 18, 2014




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