At their April 29 meeting, council members directed city staff to move ahead with a proposal by the donor to contribute at least $8 million to the project, based on current estimates, and maybe a lot more. The donor would pay all the costs in excess of the city's share, which is $6.2 million.
The proposed deal is contingent on these conditions: that the donor remain anonymous until the gym is built, and that the donor would pick the construction contractor and play an active role in the construction and design process.
Council members and city staff know the identity of the donor, but are not disclosing that information to the public.
Public Works Director Kent Steffens said the donor wants to remain anonymous to avoid "lots and lots of calls" from other cities looking for similar donations.
"We're fortunate to have someone come forward like this," said Mayor Andy Cohen, who blasted the notion that the council is not being transparent by keeping the donor's identity a secret.
"This is not intended to be a secret process," he said.
But some say the deal would skirt the city's usual public process, as the donor could have influence in changing the design of the gym, and the building contractor would be chosen by the anonymous donor, not through a city-led open bidding process.
City Attorney Bill McClure said the city puts construction projects out to bid to ensure the city is getting the best deal. The city would save far more by sharing construction costs with the would-be donor than by hiring its own contractor, so it likely isn't necessary to put the project out to bid, he said.
Mr. Steffens stressed that the proposal is "an offer, not a deal at this point," and the council would still have the final say on the project following the release of an environmental impact report and review by city staff and city commissions.
The donor is not looking to limit the use of the gym, Mr. Steffens said. He added that the donor does not currently have a development project proposed for Menlo Park.
Councilman John Boyle said public/private partnerships are the "model of the future," and he encouraged the council to consider the donor's offer — a view supported by resident Michael Taylor, a former Menlo Park community services employee.
Public/private partnerships "are the wave of the future — they're the way to get things done," said Mr. Taylor, who left the city last year to head the Saratoga Recreation Department. He said that the city owes it to supporters of Measure T, the $38 million recreation bond measure passed in 2001, to build a state-of-the-art facility, and he said that's more doable with private funds.
No one at the meeting expressed concerns about the donor's remaining anonymous and playing a part in the construction and design process.
According to the would-be donor's plans, the gym would be constructed between the existing Burgess Recreation Center and Alma Street, Mr. Steffens said.
The gym would be big enough to hold two NBA-regulation 94-foot-long basketball courts and bleachers, Mr. Steffens said.
In addition to putting $6.2 million toward the new gym, the city would demolish the existing gym, which is adjacent to the Burgess Aquatics Center on Laurel Street, and build a 17,400-square-foot gymnastics facility at the site. Construction costs for that project are estimated at $11.5 million, and would be paid entirely by the city, Mr. Steffens said.
The city has an estimated $15.8 million available to design and build the new facilities — $9.1 million from the next Measure T bond issuance, and $6.7 million in recreation-in-lieu funds.
The city would still need an additional $1.9 million to cover the projected costs of building the gymnastics facility and its share of the gym.