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Push to prevent Eau Claire YMCA closure coming to Calgary city council

An urgent notice of motion will be pushed forward encouraging the city to look at ways to partner to save the Eau Claire YMCA.

Last week, the announcement of the Gray Family Eau Claire YMCA’s permanent closure left many worried about the growing gap in inner city recreation services. They said rising costs, lowered membership and the space’s inflexibility for future programming were factors. Though COVID-19 didn’t make it any easier, the YMCA said last week that the problems were there prior to the pandemic.

Beltline Neighbourhoods Association president Peter Oliver said with that news and word that the Beltline Aquatic and Fitness Centre would likely be shuttered, there’s no commitment to services in these neighbourhoods.

“It just feels like a continued hollowing out; that (the city’s) priority really isn’t the inner city here or neighborhoods that are dense,” he said.

“The city is working to resuscitate the downtown, but the closure of these pools isn’t going to help with that.”

That concern was echoed by Ward 8 Coun. Evan Woolley. He said there’s been a failure of leadership in the City of Calgary’s recreation department.

Notice of motion coming March 1

Ward 11 Coun. Jeromy Farkas will, who is also in the field to run for mayor, will put forward an urgent notice of motion at the upcoming city council meeting to stave off the closure.

“This most recent closure is a wake-up call and a body blow to business confidence in the core,” said Farkas.

The motion will suggest the city engage in talks with the YMCA to discuss potential profit sharing, parking fee relaxations and joint operations.

In a release put out late Tuesday, Farkas outlined successful partnerships with the YMCA on their other newer facilities. He said the Eau Claire one is solely owned and operated by the YMCA.

“This isn’t just about a building. This is about our community, our economic success, and the future of downtown,” Farkas said.

Downtown plan in the works: Gondek

Fellow mayoral candidate Jyoti Gondek said that she would review the proposal put forth by Farkas.

Still, she believed the measure was redundant.

“I believe that we have got a plan in place; our administration is coming back to us with some strong recommendations,” Gondek said Wednesday.

She said Calgary needs to be investing in areas where people want to live, work and play – including having amenities in place.

Gondek wouldn’t comment on whether she felt it was political opportunism. Farkas had voted against the Green Line (station located adjacent to Eau Claire), the Downtown Strategy, the Opportunity Calgary Investment Fund and other downtown area plans.

On Wednesday, Farkas told LiveWire Calgary that he didn’t want this to turn into another “binder on a shelf” strategy.

“At this point, it’s just lip service from city council,” he said.

“City council could have all of the strategies and policies in the world, but it means nothing if they’re not going to actually prioritize these amenities for the downtown constituents.”

Farkas also said comparing his vote record on other items like the arena or the Green Line don’t wash. Those are longer term infrastructure projects. Things like this recreation relief, or a downtown police station have an immediate impact.

“It’s going to be grassroots, on-the-ground investment,” he said.

YMCA responds

Also on Wednesday, the YMCA put out a statement on the Farkas plan.

“YMCA Calgary continues to have conversations with our City of Calgary partners after our closure announcement regarding Gray Family Eau Claire YMCA,” the statement read.

“This is in the spirit of continuing dialogue with the city, started before the closure.”

Farkas said he was aware that the YMCA had reached out to the city. To his knowledge, so far the city was unresponsive. He wanted to ensure the city was an active partner in finding a solution.

“Thus the need for the motion to make it explicit,” he said.