YMCA Seeks New Downtown Site

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The State Journal- Register (Springfield, IL)


Officials from the YMCA of Springfield hope to decide sometime this year where to build a new downtown branch, and one location being considered is along Carpenter Street, a few blocks east of Memorial Medical Center, the YMCA's leader said Tuesday.

"It has been discussed as a possibility," YMCA chief executive officer Angie Sowle said of a vacant lot owned by Memorial at the northwest corner of Fourth and Carpenter streets.

But a location for a new downtown location to replace the existing 56-year-old YMCA building at Fourth and Cook streets, about a mile south of the Memorial lot, hasn't been made, Sowle said.

She wouldn't say how much a new downtown branch might cost and said YMCA officials have had some discussions with other organizations, in addition to Memorial. She didn't name those organizations.

Memorial paid $8 million toward the total cost of the Y's $18 million Kerasotes branch, which opened in 2011 on the city's west side at 4550 Iles Ave.

The health system operates a 10,000-square-foot branch of its SportsCare program in a section of the YMCA Kerasotes branch.

"Memorial is our existing partner in our existing Kerasotes facility, so it makes sense that that's where we would start in looking for a potential partner for a new location, and we are in discussions with them," Sowle said.

"It's so preliminary," she said. "We really are trying to identify sources of funding that may be available to us - potential partnerships - because clearly, it's going to take a significant capital campaign. We're going to need a lot of charitable donations to help us do that, so we're really just exploring all of those possibilities right now."

Edgar Curtis, president and chief executive officer of Memorial Health System - the parent organization of Memorial Medical Center - declined comment through a spokesman. The YMCA's board of trustees and board of directors are committed to maintaining a presence in the downtown area in addition to the west side location, Sowle said.

The State Journal-Register reported a year ago that the not-for-profit YMCA contracted with Springfield-based FWAI Architects Inc. to study the structural health of the two-story, 88,000-square-foot YMCA building at 701 S. Fourth St.

FWAI produced a report that led YMCA officials to conclude a few months ago that a major renovation of the existing downtown structure wouldn't be worth the expense, Sowle said. She declined to release the report.

"The board of trustees and the board of directors decided that the most prudent use of our resources for continuing service to the downtown area is to look to build a new building versus continuing to care and patch and nurse this older building along," Sowle said.

The Springfield YMCA operates with an annual budget of about $5.7 million, serving 17,000 members who can use either branch. About 11,000 members are based at the Kerasotes facility, with the remainder based at the downtown location, Sowle said.

The Fourth and Carpenter location is in Ward 5, and the ward's alderman, Andrew Proctor, said he learned about the possibility of the YMCA building a new downtown branch there from Springfield Mayor Jim Langfelder during a recent meeting. Landfelder couldn't be reached for comment.

Proctor said a new downtown Y branch in the Enos Park neighborhood would be a "game-changer" and could convince more families and businesses to move to the neighborhood and invest in it.

"Enos Park is at a tipping point," Proctor said. "I'm kind of excited about the news."

Proctor said Langfelder didn't mention how the project might be financed. Proctor said the land is within the city's Enos Park tax-increment financing district, and he would be in favor of using TIF funds to help make the project a reality.

YMCA officials haven't decided whether they would raze their current downtown location and build at the same site or build on another site, Sowle said, but any new downtown location would offer services comparable with what is offered now.

"We're a little landlocked here," she said of the current downtown site. "It would be lovely to go someplace with more space, more parking, maybe a little green space, but there's no piece of property that's been identified."

The Illinois Times newspaper, which first reported the YMCA's consideration of the Memorial-owned property this week, cited anonymous sources saying the current YMCA building might be deeded to the not-for-profit foundation associated with the historic Dana-Thomas House immediately north of the Y building.

Sowle said YMCA officials haven't had discussions with the Dana-Thomas House Foundation, though she said Y officials have discussed the possibility of donating the current Y building to Springfield city government.

Officials from the foundation couldn't be reached.

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February 21, 2018


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