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YMCA seeking $100K from gov'ts for Pines

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By Jon Hawley
Staff Writer

Thursday, April 18, 2019

With the YMCA at the Pines continuing to lose money, its regional YMCA operator is making a formal pitch for Pasquotank County and Elizabeth City to support the golf course and event space with contributions of $50,000 each.

Dean Mattix, a district vice president for the YMCA of South Hampton Roads, and Travis Burke, a YMCA board member, presented the request to Pasquotank County commissioners during their meeting on Monday. Mattix and Burke asked the county to contribute $50,000 to the Pines.

Though two commissioners were skeptical of giving what they described as a “bailout” to the Pines, the board agreed to consider the request during talks on next year's county budget.

The Pines' owner, Bill Taylor, donated the golf course and country club to College of The Albemarle Foundation in late 2017. The foundation partnered with the YMCA of South Hampton Roads, which operates the facility.

Mattix said the YMCA of South Hampton Roads' Board of Directors has invested nearly $350,000 in the Pines, including to update old equipment, but now expects it to run annual deficits of between $100,000 and $200,000.

Those projected deficits come despite the Pines seeing a lot of use, according to Mattix. People do more than play golf at the facility — its clubhouse is heavily used for banquets, reunions, weddings and other community events, he said.

“The YMCA at the Pines does about 120 non-golf events a year, almost every other day,” Mattix said. “It really is a community asset.”

However, the prospect of six-figure operating losses is concerning to the YMCA's board, he continued. The Pines is at a “junction point” and, if the YMCA pulls out, it will cease to be a golf course, he said.

Mattix told commissioners the YMCA wants more community support if it's to continue operating the Pines. Mattix first advised COA officials of the need for more community support for the golf club facility earlier this year. But Monday marked the first time the YMCA has said it’s asking both the county and city for $50,000 each. The YMCA is also seeking support from other donors, Mattix added.

Burke told commissioners the Pines is “something the community needs,” and suggested that, once it's sustainable, it could support programs at COA, such as in turf grass management.

Based on their reactions Monday, Commissioners Sean Lavin and Frankie Meads appeared skeptical of the YMCA's request.

“You're a year and a half into operations, and you're just now realizing that it takes a lot more money than I guess you anticipated,” Lavin said. “I struggle to think of another business entity in the county we would give $50,000 to because they're not making any money.”

Meads said he didn't think the Pines would ever “pay for itself.” Few Pasquotank residents have played golf there, and young people generally don't play golf, he said.

Other commissioners stopped short of committing to the YMCA’s request for $50,000, but suggested they'd consider some support for the Pines.

Commissioner Barry Overman, who acknowledged he serves on the local YMCA board, said the YMCA is trying to turn a private business into a community asset. The Pines has a lot of potential, he said.

“I would hate to see that property underutilized,” Overman said.

Overman also disagreed with Meads that young people don't play golf.

Commissioner Cecil Perry said he believes the Pines is a draw for the area, is a selling point in recruiting doctors, and has been used by youth golf clubs.

Board Chairman Jeff Dixon said he agrees with the county offering some support to the Pines. He said the YMCA isn't looking for Pasquotank to cover the entire operating loss, but to show it has “skin in the game.”

Were the golf course to close, it would reinforce perceptions that “there's nothing to do in Elizabeth City,” he added.

However, Dixon said it’s premature for commissioners to approve the request. He asked commissioners to delay action until their budget talks, when they could consider available resources and other funding requests.

Dixon also suggested Pasquotank could tap into tourism-related dollars to support the Pines. Pasquotank is entitled to a share of occupancy tax proceeds paid by hotels and motels and held by the city-county Tourism Development Authority.

Meads said he could support that funding source.

Elizabeth City City Council, meanwhile, has not yet discussed the Pines' request. In an interview, City Manager Rich Olson said he's discussed the request with the YMCA, and opposed it, given the city is facing a difficult budget year.

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