Local News

Triangle Aquatics Center offered for sale to Cary, county

Posted April 2, 2009 12:13 p.m. EDT
Updated April 2, 2009 6:52 p.m. EDT

— Operators have offered to sell the Triangle Aquatics Center to either the town of Cary or Wake County, saying the recession has created problems for the nearly 1½-year-old facility, although income and visitor usage are both up.

In a letter to Mayor Harold Weinbrecht, other town officials and Wake County commissioners, TAC president Michael Curran offered to sell the nonprofit center for $13.83 million, a price he called "a deep discount." The buyer would also pay between $500,000 and $750,000 to Wachovia, which holds a loan to TAC.

In February, Wachovia appraised the property at $18.1 million.

The recession has dried up donations, and Wachovia, which guarantees $10 million in municipal bonds for TAC, could demand additional collateral and raise fees by as much as 600 percent, Curran said. A Wachovia spokeswoman said the company hasn't raised fees but couldn't comment more, citing privacy.

Those difficulties will have TAC barely treading water by September and could force it to raise its user fees by 30 percent, Curran said.

"It's not really practical to be able to do that," he said.

If a buyer put up $13.8 million in cash, though, that would erase the bonds, Curran said. And despite its financial troubles, TAC remains a recreational and economic asset to the Triangle, Curran said.

"It's the ideal training facility," said John Roy,  the coach of 360 student-athletes on the New Wave Swim Team. "We use the facility every day for practice, Monday through Saturday."

TAC employs 50 people and is used by nearly 50 schools, swim teams and other aquatic organizations. Visitors topped 330,000 in 2008, and 62,000 swimmers hit TAC's waters in January and February – a 6.4 percent increase from the same period last year.

Nearly 70 percent of its users live in Cary, TAC officials said.

TAC's revenue exceeded expenses by nearly $115,000 in 2008 and more than $60,000 in the first two months of 2009. It expects a net gain of more than $300,000 for the year.

TAC has exceeded the projected $5 million in direct visitor spending in Wake County, Curran said. A regional swim meet in March drew visitors from seven states and generated $430,000 in spending. TAC projects that visitors to a national meet over Memorial Day weekend will spend another $500,000 in Wake County.

Weinbrecht indicated that he is aware of the value of TAC but is concerned about spending capital during the recession.

"It would be good, except in these economic times, it would require a lot of capital, something Cary can't afford right now," Weinbrecht said.

Since planning for TAC began in 2004, operators and the town have investigated various public-private partnerships, but none of the proposals ever came to fruition. The facility was constructed without public funds.

If Cary and Wake County turn down the offer, Curran said TAC might offer the bonds to the private sector.

Swim coaches said they couldn't afford to lose the largest indoor aquatic center in the state. Roy said he would be able to put fewer youth on the New Wave Swim Team.

"Without the space this facility offers, there's not going to be space throughout Wake County for our athletes to train," Roy said.