Almanac

News - June 16, 2010

Arrillaga will help fund Menlo gymnastics center

by Sean Howell

Palo Alto developer John Arrillaga is leaving his mark on Menlo Park's Civic Center, to the delight of city officials and athletes.

The city revealed last week that Mr. Arrillaga, who is already helping the city to build a new gymnasium, will also help fund a new gymnastics center, city officials said.

Based on preliminary talks between the city and Mr. Arrillaga, the city would pay $6.2 million of the estimated $11.5 million cost of the center, with Mr. Arrillaga covering the rest — a similar arrangement the city and donor are using to pay for the gym project. The city's payment would essentially zero out its remaining Measure T and recreation-in-lieu funds, according to Deputy City Manager Kent Steffens.

Prior to its talks with Mr. Arrillaga, the city was short of money for both the new gym, and the new gymnastics center. Mr. Arrillaga initially offered to donate to the gymnasium after he was approached by council members Kelly Fergusson and John Boyle; he has played and coached basketball in Menlo Park for decades.

"This is pretty fantastic news," Councilman Heyward Robinson said at the June 8 City Council meeting, joining other council members in expressing his gratitude for the donation. "Congratulations to staff for whatever you did to pave the way for Mr. Arrillaga to be so generous."

The city already has a master plan for the new gymnastics center, which would be built at the site of the existing gymnasium/gymnastics center in the Civic Center. The city has said that it won't demolish the existing building until the new gymnasium opens this fall.

There is no timetable for the gymnastics center project, Mr. Steffens said, though he noted that Mr. Arrillaga is already working with an architect to design it. "I don't have a schedule yet, but I know from experience that Mr. Arrillaga likes to work fast," he said. Once the facility is designed, it would go to the Parks and Recreation Commission and the Planning Commission for review, according to Mr. Steffens.

"We discussed the gymnastics center project briefly with Mr. Arrillaga months and months ago, when we were working on the gym," Mr. Steffens said in an interview. "At that point he said, 'Let's work on the gym, and see how it goes.' We've made a lot of progress on the gym, and a couple of weeks ago we talked to him again, to see if there may be an interest on his part in working with us on the gymnastics center. There was. We showed him the floor plans, and he showed an interest."

The city is still trying to figure out how it will relocate the many gymnasts who use the popular program, if and when the current gymnasium/gymnastics center is demolished to make way for the new one.

The city included the news that Mr. Arrillaga had agreed to fund the gymnastics center in the staff report for the council's June 8 meeting, and Mr. Robinson brought up the topic at the meeting.

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