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Miami-Dade could give park land for seven new YMCA recreation centers

It’s a government-sponsored idea designed to make you sweat — but in a good way.

Miami-Dade County needs state-of-the-art recreation centers in its parks. The Y, which knows how to construct fitness centers, needs land to build on.

By April, county commissioners could vote to give space at seven parks across Miami-Dade to the Y (formerly known as the YMCA), following a national trend that has gained popularity in Broward County and major cities like San Antonio, Houston and Boston.

The idea is for the county to donate the land, and for the Y to build and operate the facilities, which could cost $10 million apiece.

“They do this all over the country,” said Jack Kardys, who directs the county’s parks and recreation department. “This is the best way to stretch the money we have.”

The proposal to add the supermarket-size rec centers to county parks hit a speed bump in January when administrators, fearing a backlash for not putting the item up for bid, pulled it from the commission agenda just prior to a vote.

The county has since offered to entertain bids from other prospective builders, but believes the scope of the project and the necessary building expertise is so limited that the item is likely to return to the commissions around April with the Y as the lone bidder.

The item was originally before commissioners on Jan. 17, but was withdrawn. Two weeks later a dispute over a possible public-land giveaway emerged, reflecting the sensitivity over such give-aways.

Commissioner Lynda Bell questioned Commissioner Barbara Jordan about a piece of county property in Northwest Miami-Dade that Jordan wanted to give to the Nigerian-American Foundation to build a museum. Commissioners rarely bump heads over issues that don’t involve both of their districts.

Bell led the charge against the proposal, asserting that a rental agreement should be worked out instead of a give-away. She gained enough support on the dais that Jordan withdrew the item. She is expected to bring it back in a different form in the next few months.

Bell said the two situations are not “remotely alike.”

“The Y provides a wonderful service to parents and children — you have this great marriage,” she said. But Jordan’s proposal, she said, “was just the giveaway of a piece of land. Sure, you can argue anything you want, but a partnership is completely different from a land giveaway.”

Jordan did not respond to an interview request from The Miami Herald.

The idea of partnering with a private entity to build recreation sites at public parks popped up eight years ago, after a study commissioned by the county determined it would give the region’s ailing park system a jolt, and provide needed expertise for building the recreation centers called for by the county’s master plan.

The Y began discussions with the past administration shortly after the study was completed, but those talks and building plans were derailed by the recession.

Now the talks have renewed, and Miami-Dade would like to see the popular Y brand raise the money to build and operate fitness centers from Southwest Miami-Dade’s Kendall Indian Hammocks Park to North Central Miami-Dade’s North Pointe Park. Also on the list are Ives Estates Park, Tamiami Park, Oak Grove Park, West Kendall District Park and Chuck Pezoldt Park.

The Y points to successful partnerships already in place. One is in Allapattah, at 2370 NW 17th Ave., where the Y joined the county and the city of Miami to build a center underneath 190 affordable-housing apartments that rent for $500 to $700 a month. Renters get free Y memberships. For the community, family memberships cost as little as $50 a month. The Y got about $2 million in federal Community Development Block Grant funds to help pay for the construction on land that had already been donated.

Separately, about a year ago, the county built a recreation center at North Pointe Park, 7351 NW 186th St., that the Y operates. It would be replaced by one of the supersize facilities under the pending plan.

“We’re bursting at the seams,” Alfred Sanchez, president and chief executive of the YMCA of Greater Miami, said of the North Pointe center, which has almost 1,000 member families.

If a Y being built in the Briar Bay section of The Falls area is any indication of what the new centers would look like, local gyms may want to do some investing to keep up.

Still about two months from opening, the 40,000-square-foot, two-floor center is a hip, C-shaped structure with blue exterior walls and giant bay windows overlooking a room full of computerized treadmills. Behind the room, through another set of bay windows, is a large gym with basketball courts and a small grandstand.

There are separate rooms where young kids can play basketball on carpeting, board games and more. A large swimming pool is planned, adjoining locker rooms with showers. A running track is already in place.

Sanchez said each center could cost $10 million. Money would be raised through donations and financing. He said fees could run about $70 a month for a family, though they could vary.

“Besides the JCC [Jewish Community Centers], I’m hard-pressed to see anyone else do what we do,” Sanchez said. “It’s hard to find a major city with a Y presence where this isn’t taking place.”

Kardys, the parks director, said the county has been building 7,500-square-foot recreation centers — well below the community’s needs.

“That’s great for an afternoon or summer program, but it’s hardly a recreation center. We need much more robust community centers,” he said. The Y’s “have this. They do this, and they do it all over the country.”