Time for a long, cool farewell

Padonia Swim Club is being sold to large church

July 08, 2008|By Rona Marech | Rona Marech,Sun reporter

Devotees will tell you that Padonia Swim Club is more than just a place to go swimming. For some, it is where they got their first job, sent their kids to day camp, paddled on the pond, sparked summer romances, got married and sipped cocktails at the cabana bar.

So when the 49-year-old club announced that it was selling the Cockeysville property to a church and shutting down operations - albeit in fall 2010 at the earliest - the news hit members like an afternoon thunderstorm after a cloudless morning.

"We're so sad!" said Stacey McHugh, who brings her 6-year-old triplets to the pool most weekdays and usually has to drag them away in the evening. "I grew up here. It's just a really good family place. ... What will I do?"

FOR THE RECORD - An article in Tuesday's Maryland section about the sale of a swim club included an incorrect first name of the pastor of Grace Fellowship Church in Timonium. He is Danny O'Brien.
THE SUN REGRETS THE ERROR

Some forlorn members were so low about the impending sale, they decided to protest recently at Grace Fellowship Church in Timonium, an interdenominational Christian church that plans to use the 29.9 acres for a new 2,200-seat church and campus.

A handful of adults and children showed up in T-shirts that read, "What Would Jesus Do?" and "Save our Pool."

Technically, there are four pools on the site along Jenifer Road - with plans going ahead for one more that's already under construction. But the church is unlikely to preserve any of them. It comes down to a straightforward business move:

The Rigger family, which has owned and operated the club for nearly 50 years, says they weren't looking for a buyer - in fact, they had turned down other proposals in the past.

But the church came to them with an offer of $10 million for the property, said the family patriarch, Ira Rigger, 85, who started out as the contractor building the original pool and ended up as the owner.

He and his children felt it was an offer they could not refuse.

If all goes according to plan, the club will operate for two more summers while the church completes the building-approval process, then the family likely will reinvest the money in another enterprise.

"It was a hard emotional decision, but a good business decision," said Kathy Angstadt, who runs the pool club, summer camp, child care center and year-round banquet and catering business with her brother, Fred Rigger.

"We weren't quite ready to sell it, but we knew there would come a time," said the senior Rigger, who built more than 2,000 pools in his day and continued to work as a contractor during much of the time he owned the club.

He still works 60- to 80-hour weeks.

"We can't do it for another 50 years," he said. "The church not only needs it, but they serve the community also, in a different way."

The church, which now rents a space with 1,100 seats, holds four services each week to accommodate about 3,000 people. "We just think it isn't right for a church to have a 'no vacancy' sign on the door," said Dennis O'Brien, the senior pastor. His growing church has a second site in Shrewsbury, Pa., and is planning to open a third, in Baltimore's Federal Hill, early next year.

The swim club is a perfect spot for the base church because it's so close to the current location, O'Brien said. The plan is to use some of the land for the church building and parking and to preserve green space for walking paths, children's programs and the like.

Fred Rigger said he knew club members, who pay different amounts to join depending on the type of membership, would be disappointed about the decision, but he has been a bit surprised by the outpouring of emotion.

"It's more overwhelming than I thought," he said. "I never knew we made such an impact."

He was walking around the property, pointing out the pond, the gazebo, the Olympic-size pool, the baby pool, the ballroom and the snack bar. Plastic toys floated in the baby pool, children squealed, a teenager did a flip off the diving board and someone in a red polka dot bikini stretched out on a lounge chair. The air smelled like hot concrete and chlorine.

"This is my life," Fred Rigger said, looking around. "There's a little of all of us in this place."

Out in the parking lot, Caroline Hebditch was heading home with her wet-headed children in tow. It's terribly disappointing, she said, before voicing the thought that many longtime members are not-very-secretly harboring.

"I just hope they won't close it," she said. "I hope that something happens so that it doesn't go that far."

rona.marech@baltsun.com

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