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Anonymous donor offers $30M to turn idea of public gym into a reality

In initial discussions, benefactor offers sum if city provides land and additional money

Lisa Golden and Rob Rubenstein do Russian twists using medicine balls as they work out in a 7 a.m. boot camp class led by Michael Granville on Dec. 15, 2017. Embarcadero Media file photo by Veronica Weber.

Palo Alto's plan to build a new public gym received a major boost this week, with an anonymous donor proposing to give more than $30 million to the city to make the project a reality, Mayor Tom DuBois told the Weekly.

DuBois said the donor is looking to help the city build a gym along the lines of the one proposed by the Parks and Recreation Commission, which established a committee earlier this year to evaluate the need for a new gym for the city's residents. Last month, the commission voted unanimously to recommend advancing the project and exploring ways to fund it.

Jeff LaMere, a parks commissioner who served on the ad hoc committee, said at the Nov. 17 meeting that a gym is something that is "sorely lacking for a city of our stature, a city of our wealth."

"A gym can be an anchor of health and wellness for this community. I think it should be a priority for us," said LaMere, who coaches boys basketball at Palo Alto High.

While the city currently leases gym space at Cubberley Community Center, that facility is on land owned by the Palo Alto Unified School District. A prior proposal to create a new wellness center on Cubberley was included in a master plan for the south Palo Alto campus, though the idea of the city and the school district jointly building such a center has largely been abandoned over the past year. Instead, the school district is opting to preserve 20 acres of its land for a future high school and potentially transfer the rest of its acreage.

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DuBois said the donor was inspired by the commission's discussion to contribute to a new gym. He noted, however, that the city hasn't yet discussed any of the key details, including the location of the proposed facility and whether additional funds would be needed. The parks commission had estimated that a new gym would cost about $25 million. The donor expressed an interest in contributing a sum somewhere in the range of $30 million to $35 million, DuBois said.

Under the commission's proposed concept, the new gym would include three courts capable of accommodating a variety of sports, including basketball, volleyball, pickleball, indoor soccer, badminton and table tennis, as well as exercise rooms and meeting rooms for small gatherings. The gym proposed by the donor, DuBois said, is consistent with the commission's vision.

DuBois said he learned about the proposal last week, when he received a phone call from the donor. On Thursday morning, the donor had initial discussions with city staff. DuBois said the plan will be fleshed out further early next year, when the full City Council gets its first chance to discuss the project.

Even so, DuBois said he wanted to notify the community about the proposed donation before plans advance too much further.

"I want to be very transparent," DuBois said. "I don't want to be in a situation where plans are developed for a long time and then are sprung on the public."

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DuBois confirmed that the donor's proposal does not call for any other buildings besides the gym. It would also require the city to provide the land for the facility as well as some funding.

The parks commission has explored several potential locations for a new gym, which was identified as a community need in the city's 2017 parks master plan. The two most promising sites, according to the commission, are the Baylands Athletic Center, which includes a 10.5 acres that became available after the city reconfigured its golf course, and the Ventura neighborhood, which has long been identified as deficient in recreational amenities and is currently the focus of its own master plan process.

If the gym plan advances, Palo Alto's new recreational space would be the latest in a series of major projects that advanced because of major community donations. The Peery Foundation donated $24 million in 2013 to allow Palo Alto High School to build a new athletic center, which opened in 2017. The city's newly rebuilt Junior Museum and Zoo, which opened to the public last month, also benefited from a $15 million donation from the Peery family.

Gennady Sheyner covers the City Hall beat in Palo Alto as well as regional politics, with a special focus on housing and transportation. Before joining the Palo Alto Weekly/PaloAltoOnline.com in 2008, he covered breaking news and local politics for the Waterbury Republican-American, a daily newspaper in Connecticut. Read more >>

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Anonymous donor offers $30M to turn idea of public gym into a reality

In initial discussions, benefactor offers sum if city provides land and additional money

by / Palo Alto Weekly

Uploaded: Thu, Dec 16, 2021, 12:15 pm

Palo Alto's plan to build a new public gym received a major boost this week, with an anonymous donor proposing to give more than $30 million to the city to make the project a reality, Mayor Tom DuBois told the Weekly.

DuBois said the donor is looking to help the city build a gym along the lines of the one proposed by the Parks and Recreation Commission, which established a committee earlier this year to evaluate the need for a new gym for the city's residents. Last month, the commission voted unanimously to recommend advancing the project and exploring ways to fund it.

Jeff LaMere, a parks commissioner who served on the ad hoc committee, said at the Nov. 17 meeting that a gym is something that is "sorely lacking for a city of our stature, a city of our wealth."

"A gym can be an anchor of health and wellness for this community. I think it should be a priority for us," said LaMere, who coaches boys basketball at Palo Alto High.

While the city currently leases gym space at Cubberley Community Center, that facility is on land owned by the Palo Alto Unified School District. A prior proposal to create a new wellness center on Cubberley was included in a master plan for the south Palo Alto campus, though the idea of the city and the school district jointly building such a center has largely been abandoned over the past year. Instead, the school district is opting to preserve 20 acres of its land for a future high school and potentially transfer the rest of its acreage.

DuBois said the donor was inspired by the commission's discussion to contribute to a new gym. He noted, however, that the city hasn't yet discussed any of the key details, including the location of the proposed facility and whether additional funds would be needed. The parks commission had estimated that a new gym would cost about $25 million. The donor expressed an interest in contributing a sum somewhere in the range of $30 million to $35 million, DuBois said.

Under the commission's proposed concept, the new gym would include three courts capable of accommodating a variety of sports, including basketball, volleyball, pickleball, indoor soccer, badminton and table tennis, as well as exercise rooms and meeting rooms for small gatherings. The gym proposed by the donor, DuBois said, is consistent with the commission's vision.

DuBois said he learned about the proposal last week, when he received a phone call from the donor. On Thursday morning, the donor had initial discussions with city staff. DuBois said the plan will be fleshed out further early next year, when the full City Council gets its first chance to discuss the project.

Even so, DuBois said he wanted to notify the community about the proposed donation before plans advance too much further.

"I want to be very transparent," DuBois said. "I don't want to be in a situation where plans are developed for a long time and then are sprung on the public."

DuBois confirmed that the donor's proposal does not call for any other buildings besides the gym. It would also require the city to provide the land for the facility as well as some funding.

The parks commission has explored several potential locations for a new gym, which was identified as a community need in the city's 2017 parks master plan. The two most promising sites, according to the commission, are the Baylands Athletic Center, which includes a 10.5 acres that became available after the city reconfigured its golf course, and the Ventura neighborhood, which has long been identified as deficient in recreational amenities and is currently the focus of its own master plan process.

If the gym plan advances, Palo Alto's new recreational space would be the latest in a series of major projects that advanced because of major community donations. The Peery Foundation donated $24 million in 2013 to allow Palo Alto High School to build a new athletic center, which opened in 2017. The city's newly rebuilt Junior Museum and Zoo, which opened to the public last month, also benefited from a $15 million donation from the Peery family.

Comments

felix
Registered user
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 16, 2021 at 1:14 pm
felix, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
Registered user
on Dec 16, 2021 at 1:14 pm

Wonderful.
Do locate it in Ventura given the serious need for more facilities in our towns lowest income, most poorly served neighborhood.
And given the imbalance in South Palo Alto compared to North.
Next on the list - a public swimming pool for the South for exercise and recreation.


Leland J.
Registered user
Professorville
on Dec 16, 2021 at 6:23 pm
Leland J. , Professorville
Registered user
on Dec 16, 2021 at 6:23 pm

Waiting for the NIMBY crowd to start whining about rich people buying their way into town facilities. Will be totally on brand for PA.


Mom of squash lover
Registered user
Palo Verde
on Dec 16, 2021 at 9:30 pm
Mom of squash lover, Palo Verde
Registered user
on Dec 16, 2021 at 9:30 pm

Please consider squash courts too


systemBuilder
Registered user
Greenmeadow
on Dec 16, 2021 at 11:03 pm
systemBuilder, Greenmeadow
Registered user
on Dec 16, 2021 at 11:03 pm

What a wonderful altruistic gesture, I salute this wonderful donor.


tmp
Registered user
Downtown North
on Dec 16, 2021 at 11:39 pm
tmp, Downtown North
Registered user
on Dec 16, 2021 at 11:39 pm

This is great news. Now we just need the Palo Alto City council to get serious about buying the Fry's area for the new gym and park. The historic Fry's building can be community space and the new gym can anchor a park and urban open space that this area of town needs and deserves.

This would be a big outlay but the city has been spending a lot of money on everything but the residents who pay the taxes. We need this gym and more park space right where people live and where they can easily access it and use it frequently. Don't let this area be overrun with more stack and pack housing and office space, use it for the residents to enjoy.

Per the comprehensive plan the city already owes the citizens many acres of parkland that they have never been bought or developed. It is time to concentrate on that part of the plan for the city. The city council is requesting suggestions on what their main goals should be for next year. Write in and tell them you want the Fry's site to be where the new gym is put along with a large park. That would be perfect to give us more space to get out and exercise, especially if we continue to have issues around needing to spread out more when we exercise or get together for meetings. Let's hope the city can make this a great project for the city in an area that would be perfect for it.


jrameyers
Registered user
Crescent Park
on Dec 17, 2021 at 11:40 am
jrameyers, Crescent Park
Registered user
on Dec 17, 2021 at 11:40 am

I hope the gym includes a sauna, hot tub, and generous locker room facilities.


Claude Ezran
Registered user
Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Dec 17, 2021 at 3:20 pm
Claude Ezran, Leland Manor/Garland Drive
Registered user
on Dec 17, 2021 at 3:20 pm

This is a extremely generous, but from a moral point of view, you have to wonder whether the $30M would be better used for much more pressing human needs such as housing for the homeless, food banks, or helping people who have no health insurance...Or at least give the gym to East Palo Alto, a community that has much less than wealthy Palo Alto.


Me 2
Registered user
Old Palo Alto
on Dec 17, 2021 at 5:31 pm
Me 2, Old Palo Alto
Registered user
on Dec 17, 2021 at 5:31 pm

"but from a moral point of view, you have to wonder whether the $30M would be better used for much more pressing human needs such as housing for the homeless, food banks, or helping people who have no health insurance"

Always so easy to spend other people's money, isn't it.


chris
Registered user
University South
on Dec 17, 2021 at 11:15 pm
chris, University South
Registered user
on Dec 17, 2021 at 11:15 pm

This should be part of the Cubberley redevelopment. The city owns much of the land and it would help fund the replacement of a very dilapidated asset.

Donors should not set the city's priorities but be part of the dialogue.


BobH
Registered user
Palo Verde
on Dec 18, 2021 at 3:45 pm
BobH, Palo Verde
Registered user
on Dec 18, 2021 at 3:45 pm

While it is generous that an anonymous donor offered to give more than $30 million for a city gym, a lot depends how much the whole project will cost. The city will have to pay the balance and operating costs for maintenance and gym staff going forward. It might still be very expensive.

I also tend to agree that the city has other bigger issues to deal with like the CalTrain intersections, housing, homelessness, lowering carbon emissions, etc. I would rate this lower priority than these.


Bystander
Registered user
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 18, 2021 at 5:20 pm
Bystander, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
Registered user
on Dec 18, 2021 at 5:20 pm

I hope that thought is put into this to help our teens.

They get stressed out as everything from school and extra curricula activities become nothing more than activities that "look good on college apps". What they need is hangout time with other teens, time to try something new without it being challenging or involve a regular time commitment, and fun.

I hope there will be time and space for pickup games and low key times where the emphasis is on fun and enjoyment.

My suggestions would include some mixed games with at least 2 girls/2 boys on each team, mixed age teams, parent/teen teams, mixed school teams, etc. Also during winter and spring breaks some times where families can challenge another family, type of activities.

Let us put our teens first with emphasis on recreation and relaxation - some true R and R.


Jennifer
Registered user
another community
on Dec 19, 2021 at 3:35 pm
Jennifer, another community
Registered user
on Dec 19, 2021 at 3:35 pm

Truly commendable.


John B. Sails
Registered user
Midtown
on Dec 21, 2021 at 7:50 am
John B. Sails, Midtown
Registered user
on Dec 21, 2021 at 7:50 am

Agree strongly with Me2. So, an anonymous person wants to contribute 30 million dollars for a sports-related benefit to the Palo Alto community, and people who are not contributing money want to divert this money to their non-sports-related preferences, in the name of their supposed moral superiority. I say let the benefactor give to what he wants to give to, even if some people who don't like sports are not happy about it.


mjh
Registered user
College Terrace
on Dec 21, 2021 at 2:23 pm
mjh, College Terrace
Registered user
on Dec 21, 2021 at 2:23 pm

In the past Stanford had a history of accepting money for new buildings but the annual cost of maintaining and future repairs came out of Stanfords budget. Perhaps since then they also include an endowment for future costs.

Palo Alto residents should be assured that this vanity project is not a permanent and set in concrete sinkhole for future tax dollars. Perhaps there are models for including the boring and hidden costs of using part of the donor’s gift “gift” for an endowment? Or, unlike the new Children’s zoo, fees that are not so high to discourage or be unaffordable for many Palo Alto families.

How many additional staff will need to be hired to oversee running the gym or supervising a business that is contracted to do so, and janiotialn costs?

On the other hand, perhaps this could be the most wonderful resource for residents.


Eddy Haigh
Registered user
Midtown
on Dec 21, 2021 at 8:44 pm
Eddy Haigh, Midtown
Registered user
on Dec 21, 2021 at 8:44 pm

Awesome! It'll be good to have more affordable gym options in the city. When I moved here I looked and found Equinox, a very expensive gym by all regards, to be the cheapest option nearby!


PalyJim
Registered user
Old Palo Alto
on Dec 22, 2021 at 4:39 pm
PalyJim, Old Palo Alto
Registered user
on Dec 22, 2021 at 4:39 pm

It's expected to see a debate about "how best" to use this generous donation offer, between donor and community wishes, as both have valid viewpoints. I am reminded of the windowless dorms at UCSB, who followed not only the wealthy donor's wishes but his designs as well! Hmmm. Still, a gym is a fun idea - how will it be used? Over the years in Palo Alto, middle and high school gyms are used for limited public access. My memories as a teen were that we still didn't have a place to play basketball since the "public" access was consumed by adult exercise classes or leagues. Will the kids be left outside again?


mjh
Registered user
College Terrace
on Dec 22, 2021 at 10:49 pm
mjh, College Terrace
Registered user
on Dec 22, 2021 at 10:49 pm

How would a city owned gym be different from and complement the programs and services offered by the YMCA gym on Ross Road?


Annette
Registered user
College Terrace
on Dec 23, 2021 at 5:00 pm
Annette, College Terrace
Registered user
on Dec 23, 2021 at 5:00 pm

Gifts like this are few and far between, so THANK YOU to the generous donor and please, CPA, do all you can to bring this to fruition. This community talks quite a lot about mental health and the need to do more for our youth in that regard. What could be healthier than a gym?


scott
Registered user
Fairmeadow
on Dec 23, 2021 at 5:58 pm
scott, Fairmeadow
Registered user
on Dec 23, 2021 at 5:58 pm

*Shrug*

The city mandates excessive parking for all residential construction, and also keeps curb parking free and abundant. So I have no idea why most people who want to use a gym wouldn't just put one in their mandatory garage and save the trips.


John B. Sails
Registered user
Midtown
on Dec 25, 2021 at 8:48 am
John B. Sails, Midtown
Registered user
on Dec 25, 2021 at 8:48 am

Respectfully, scott, has Covid made you forget social interaction and team sports?


Robert Neff
Registered user
Midtown
on Dec 26, 2021 at 10:06 pm
Robert Neff, Midtown
Registered user
on Dec 26, 2021 at 10:06 pm

Has the need for this new gym space been assessed? If we add up all the gym space in town, including the YMCA, at least 3 gyms at the high schools, the three middle schools, and the two at Cubberley, plus the Pinewoods facility on E. Bayshore. Are there others, too? Is there a shortage of gym space, over the full year? or are we just not good at using what is already built? In Mountain View the two middle schools have gym space available to the community many evenings after school hours. How many more hours of community use could we have if we fully exploited what is already here? Is this a case where every gym is in use and booked already, or one more like our city community rooms, where there is enough space, but users wish for a subsidy for lower rates.


Fritz Mahew
Registered user
Downtown North
on Dec 27, 2021 at 10:04 am
Fritz Mahew, Downtown North
Registered user
on Dec 27, 2021 at 10:04 am

"This is a extremely generous, but from a moral point of view, you have to wonder whether the $30M would be better used for much more pressing human needs such as housing for the homeless, food banks, or helping people who have no health insurance...Or at least give the gym to East Palo Alto, a community that has much less than wealthy Palo Alto."

^ A $30M grant could be used in countless ways to further benefit mankind but since it is the wish of an anonymous donor to build a new gym for Palo Alto residents, let's just leave it at that and not look a gift horse in the mouth.

As for East Palo Alto, the wealthy corporate merchants now situated in the area (i.e. IKEA, Home Depot etc.) along with current office developers should consider contributing and building a gym for EPA citizens.


Deborah
Registered user
Evergreen Park
on Dec 28, 2021 at 11:38 am
Deborah, Evergreen Park
Registered user
on Dec 28, 2021 at 11:38 am

Good for them. I'm willing to ante up as well. City owned, public facilities are the foundation of a sense of community. Major community construction projects seem to always be mostly funded by a single, generous donor. Bleeding heart liberal that I am, I do think Palo Alto needs this.


A Person
Registered user
Southgate
on Dec 31, 2021 at 11:09 am
A Person, Southgate
Registered user
on Dec 31, 2021 at 11:09 am
Citizen
Registered user
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 31, 2021 at 8:04 pm
Citizen, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
Registered user
on Dec 31, 2021 at 8:04 pm

To the donor, Thank you for your kind generosity!!!!!

I hope the City will consider putting it on the South side of town, as has been suggested, Ventura would be perfect. Or something walkable--not having to cross major intersections--for the side of town that literally has no major City amenities (Barron Park, Greenacres--though Ventura is reachable from these neighborhoods across El Camino with good lights).

We do have pressing needs, which is why we need to raise developer fees to pay for the actual cost of impacts, and we need a business tax for large businesses.

As Jesus said, The poor will always be among us... (meaning, serve the poor, but it's also okay to do other things that are important, too)


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