It hasn't been easy for Oklahoma City to entice any of the big local fish in the wellness industry to bite as operating partners of the MAPS 3 senior centers. But a city subcommittee is considering baiting the hook with a possible subsidy.
The MAPS 3 Citizen Advisory Board's senior wellness center subcommittee met Wednesday and started to refine a new request for proposals for potential operating partners for the first center. The first request brought in only two proposals, neither of which was accepted by the subcommittee.
Subcommittee members, consultants and other city officials have spent recent weeks interviewing a broad range of health care and wellness providers in the metro area to explore what changes to make to get better bids. Among concerns potential partners expressed was a worry about operating costs without a subsidy, particularly on aquatic elements, and a desire for more specific guidelines on the target audience.
“What we're trying to do is get as wide of an interest as possible,” subcommittee chairman Michael Dover said. “We want to make this work.”
The wellness centers were marketed to voters as including an aquatic element during the city's MAPS 3 ballot campaign, and the centers proved to be among the most popular projects. But the high labor and maintenance cost of pools has been a big contributor to projected operating costs giving wellness providers pause, consultants told the subcommittee.
But those same wellness providers conceded the aquatic elements would be a big part of the draw for local seniors. Subcommittee members have expressed a strong preference for bids that include pools, but haven't yet made that a requirement.
The potential for bidders to include a city subsidy request could be the catalyst in attracting strong bids, especially those that include plans for an aquatic element. As it's currently phrased, the draft request for proposals asks bidders for a detailed explanation of and justification for the use of the subsidy.
The subcommittee could approve recommendation of the new request as soon as its October meeting. It would then go to the Citizen Advisory Board for consideration, and ultimately the city council.
But a bid that includes a subsidy request is no cinch to win city council approval. Some members of the council, which is generally fiscally conservative, could balk at additional MAPS 3 operating costs. The operating costs already planned for contribute to a small funding gap in the overall city budget that the council must close in the coming years.
Dover expressed confidence the council would support a subsidy that's well thought out and likely to be a good investment.
MAPS 3 is intended to include four senior wellness centers at a cost of about $52 million. Construction on the first one is scheduled to begin next year. The wellness centers were marketed as providing a place for active seniors to pursue a healthy lifestyle and access wellness services and programs.