By Brent Rutemiller
Phoenix, Arizona, February 14. IN the first step of a four-phase process, representatives for developers who hope to acquire the Phoenix Swim Club property, a 9.8-acre oasis in the heart of Phoenix, met with neighbors Wednesday to show the plans for replacing the world-class facility.
A large and vocal group of neighbors showed up at the Mountain View Christian Church, located directly across from the Phoenix Swim Club pool, to meet with representatives of the Ryland/Trend Homes Group, the prospective buyer of the Phoenix Swim Club property. As previously reported by Swimming World, the pool and the surrounding anemities are set for demolition at the end of the year.
The neighborhood gathering was advertised as a “meeting” to discuss the removal of the special-use permit that allows the Phoenix Swim Club to exist on the property. Brophy College Preparatory, an all-male, Catholic high school run by Jesuit priests, purchased the property out of bankruptcy in 2001 for around $1.7 million with the understanding that the Phoenix Swim Club would remain on the property. Brophy was given price reductions because of the special use permit and in return Brophy gave verbal promises to support the Phoenix Swim Club.
The neighbors were quickly informed that there was no formal meeting dispite letters sent to the neighborhood. It was an open house where the neighbors could meet with the developers and place comment cards in a box for the city to review.
Clearly perturbed and feeling misled, the neighbors insisted on a meeting to be given the opportunity to have a dialogue.
After a series of spirited questions, it was revealed that the property could not be developed until the special use permit was removed, and that process would take a series of additional city meetings ending sometime in mid-April.
The neighbors were very vocal about their support for the Phoenix Swim Club and the open space that currently exists. There was almost unanimous opposition toward the development because the plans were out of character with the current neighborhood. The neighborhood consists of single family homes on large acreages. There are still horse farming properties behind the church. Many of the homes receive flood irrigation, allowing for citrus groves and exotic vegetation. Additional concerns were expressed about traffic flowing onto streets already reaching capacity from other developments.
Representatives of Brophy were not at the meeting. Their absence caught many by surprise and angered a number of neighbors. Many neighbors felt that Brophy was quietly trying to complete the sale with little discussion and no media attention.
If Brophy can shed the Phoenix Swim Club pool, it will profit enormously from the $6.8 million offer reportedly on the table.
According to the developers, Brophy is claiming that it needs to sell this property so it can build a similar facility on its main campus in downtown Phoenix.
The developer told the audience that Brophy's intention is to meet with the Phoenix Swim Club board this week to continue dialogue and to have the Phoenix Swim Club relocate in the new facility. However, no Phoenix Swim Club board member could confirm that a meeting was scheduled.
Questions will certainly be raised about Brophy's intent on building a similar facility on its campus. Will they serve the entire community the same way that the Phoenix Swim Club pool currently serves Phoenix? Will they offer summer camp programs for children? Will they offer a Special Olympics swimming program? Will they offer swim lessons? Will the public have walk-in use? Will they offer adult fitness programs? Will they attract international, national and college teams to their facility for winter training? Will they host national and state competitions?
The existing Phoenix Swim Club pool can answer yes to all the above questions. Equally important is the dollar and city tax revenue that these events bring to the hotel, restaurant and transportation industry.
In another attempt to state Brophy's reasons for selling the property, the developer said that the facility was in disrepair and was falling apart. It was costing a lot of money to maintain.
Some of the people in attendance who have connections to the club refuted those statements saying that the pool had recently been re-plastered and re-tiled and now has a new filtration system. Others in the know said that the facility is costing nothing to Brophy since the club is paying all the bills including utility and maintenance for its ongoing operations.
One gentleman in the audience, whose property is next door to the club, claimed to be a Brophy graduate from the 1970s. He questioned the current culture. “We were taught social justice at Brophy. Where is the social justice?” he asked.
When the developers were asked directly if the special use permit had an expiration date, the answer was no.
When asked if the sale would be stopped if the special use permit remained on the property, the answer was yes.
When asked if the property was already sold, the answer was no. It is in escrow and cannot close until the special use stipulation is removed. The developer tried to paint a picture that the club was not welcome in the neighborhood due to past experiences with traffic and noise. That impression was quickly countered by a number of neighbors who said that they loved the swim club and whatever issues appeared in the past were either blown out of proportion or were resolved. One neighbor even stated that the swim club has been a very thoughtful and awesome neighbor. With these statements, applause could be heard.
Without the insistence of a formal meeting by the neighbors, the developers would not have heard the neighbors as a collective group and the city planners would have been left with reading simple comment cards.
The neighborhood surrounding the Phoenix Swim Club is a neighborhood that reaches into the affluent Camelback Biltmore area and east into Arcadia. The same neighborhood successfully fought to save a historic Frank Lloyd Wright home from destruction and also stopped Donald Trump from building towers on Camelback Road. Saving the 25-year-old Phoenix Swim Club pool and its Olympic heritage is within the capability of this neighborhood.
The fact that this is the only world-class, Olympic size training facility in all of Phoenix is certainly worthy of city safeguards.
The latest chapter in the Phoenix Swim Club is a difficult one and will be even more difficult to resolve. The Phoenix Swim Club is only a tenant and is at the mercy of Brophy. As a tenant, its voice is compromised and muted for fear that it will be evicted or not allowed access to Brophy's new facility, if and when it is built. Where is the social justice?
Even if the Phoenix Swim Club cannot let its voice be heard, it is very apparent that the neighborhood will be heard. Brophy should have been at the neighborhood meeting to hear first-hand from the neighbors on their disappointment and why they don't want the Phoenix Swim Club to leave.
It was also quite obvious that the neighbors are equally disappointed and somewhat angered at the proposed development that appears to be without any regard toward the current neighborhood and in its history.
The best outcome for the neighborhood, the Phoenix Swim Club and Brophy's reputation would be to slow down the current sale and open up bids from other parties. Other interests may wish to develop the property in such a way that it coexists with the Phoenix Swim Club, its neighbors and the property's long history of serving children. The property first served as an elementary school for the Madison School District dating back to the 1950s. Some of the original classrooms still remain on campus.
Note: Brent Rutemiller is publisher and CEO of Swimming World Magazine, and a resident of the neighborhood that contains the Phoenix Swim Club pool.