The residents of southwest Fresno are on the verge of finally getting their long-promised community gymnasium.
The City Council on Thursday approved an agreement with an Idaho-based organization to operate the city-owned gym on California Avenue near Elm Avenue.
The group is Leadership 1st, a national community development organization focused on educational initiatives and founded by Derrick Boles. The group will partner with the West Fresno Family Resource Center and southwest Fresno's St. Rest Baptist Church to offer a variety of programs and recreational opportunities.
The city will receive no rent on a deal that goes for three years and includes two one-year extensions. Leadership 1st will pay all operational costs, including an estimated $32,000 a year for utilities.
"This is a tremendous opportunity" for organizations and residents alike, Boles told the council.
Pastor D.J. Criner of the St. Rest Baptist Church said southwest Fresno residents, frustrated after years of waiting, were beginning to wonder if a fully functioning gym on California was nothing but a myth.
"Finally we're starting to see it become a reality," Criner said.
Council Member Oliver Baines, who represents southwest Fresno, said the gym's uncertain fate "has been an albatross around my neck since I came into office" in January 2011.
Baines praised the partnership, but cautioned that much work lies ahead.
"You're all in my prayers -- it's going to be very tough," Baines said.
City Manager Bruce Rudd after the vote said the city has some last-minute clean-up to do on the site. He hopes the gym doors can open by late September.
According to a staff report, Leadership 1st must provide public access from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday, at a minimum. Programs will focus on such issues as computer literacy, health, fitness, leadership, nutrition, science, tutoring, volunteering and family enrichment.
The building includes meeting rooms and what city officials tout as an NBA-size basketball court.
The Fresno County Economic Opportunities Commission, a nonprofit not connected to the Fresno County government, built the gym with the help of state grant money. The city bought the center, using $3.73 million from a local parks bond. The budget crisis hit before the center could be opened full time.
It's unclear how much public money went into the gym over the years. Estimates range from $5 million to $7.5 million.
A complex dispute over money and responsibilities arose among City Hall, the EOC and the state. The gym's doors remained closed except for the occasional event.
Rudd, who doubles as interim parks director, said he doesn't know if the EOC and the state settled their disagreement.
"I just want to get (the gym) open," he said.