YMCA Groundbreaking Is Friday

October 24, 2003
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GRAND RAPIDS — The Greater Grand Rapids YMCA will break ground Friday morning, Oct. 31, for the $26 million building that eventually will house its consolidated operation.

Meanwhile, it will continue in its drive to wrap up financing of the three-story structure building known as the David D. Hunting YMCA.

David, Allen and John Hunting gave the lead donation, a challenge grant of $5 million, in honor of their father, David D. Hunting.

According to the Y’s president and CEO, Ron Nelson, the gift is the largest single contribution in the local association’s history, and is pivotal to the agency’s strategic goal of involving area youngsters in its programs by the thousands.

He said a number of local foundations have also made contributions to the project and that the Y is raising $10 million via tax-exempt bonding.

Meanwhile, he said, the not-for-profit community organization is working to raise the remaining funds through donations.

He recommended that other benefactors eager to help children and families, particularly those living in impoverished circumstances, should consider assisting the Y in completing its drive.

Nelson noted that the new three-story building will be at 475 Lake Michigan Drive, adjacent to the Pew Campus of Grand Valley State University and adjoining one of the most economically depressed neighborhoods in Grand Rapids

He said the new YMCA will be a beautiful, open and inviting facility that will not only improve the physical attractiveness of the area, but more importantly, provide a welcoming place for children and families to play and learn. 

“The Y is poised to become a catalyst for community-building,” he added, “that will link the neighborhood residents, downtown workers and students who will use the new facility.” 

Nelson stressed that the Y will continue its current policy of working with organizations and institutions that serve impoverished youth. Among the organizations are the Steil Youth Center, the Grand Rapids Public Schools, the City of Grand Rapids Recreation Reaps Rewards program, Concerned Citizens Council, Hispanic Center, Baxter Community Center, United Methodist Community House, SECOM, Camp Fire and others that deliver services to help children realize their personal and academic potential.

The Y has listed its main building at 33 Library St. and branch at 902 Leonard Ave. NW for sale.

Nothing will change immediately, however, because the new building won’t be ready for occupancy before spring of 2005.

Nelson recently informed the DDA that Right Place Inc. was helping his group market the buildings they own. “We’re over a year away so we have time to do this,” said Nelson.

Residential units haven’t been designed into the new YMCA, like the building on Library Street. Nelson said the Y has started a housing task force that will seek new homes for residents of the downtown Y.

The Y originally planned the groundbreaking for last week but rescheduled for Oct. 31, a date when all three of the Hunting brothers could be present.

The building was designed by Integrated Architecture and construction is by the Visser Brothers.

Since the Y came into being here the year after the Civil War ended, it has been a gathering place for people of all ages, races and beliefs who are provided the opportunity to grow and learn in a healthy, wholesome environment. 

Nelson said last year the YMCA of Greater Grand Rapids served a record 23,000 members and 110,700 program participants.

According to Nelson the organization has adopted a new vision to lead in building strong children, strong families and strong communities.

“To realize this vision,” he said, “the YMCA has made a commitment to involve one in five youth and teens in year-round programs by 2006. Construction of the new David D. Hunting YMCA will help to achieve this goal.”

He said the150,000-square-foot facility will provide a family warm-water pool, a full-size competitive pool, kids’ gymnasiums, a health and wellness center, a teen adventure center, an indoor track, community multi-purpose rooms and a chapel. 

He said the family orientation of the Y is manifested in one special way: the provision of changing facilities not only for adults, but also separate facilities for parents with young children.

He said the Hunting facility will combine and eventually replace the programs and facilities currently located at its downtown and Leonard Street branches.  Nelson said market research conducted by the Winfield Consulting Group indicates the new Y  will have three times the usual penetration rate for YMCAs across the nation. 

Nelson said YMCA programs and memberships serve a diverse “rainbow” of children and families.

Once complete, the Hunting YMCA will serve a geographic area with an approximate population of 144,411, nearly half of whom have family incomes below $30,000. 

“Given this level of poverty, scholarships and other subsidies will be a focus of fund development once the facility is built,” Nelson said.

He explained that it’s the Y’s policy never to turn away any child or family due to inability to pay.

The Y’s Web site says its marketing study reveals that more than 38,000 youth from infancy to age 17 live in the geographic service area of the new YMCA.

Broken down by age, 13,510 residents are ages 0-5; 13,461 are ages 6-11; 11,125 are ages 12-17; and 91,991 are ages 18-64. 

The study indicates diverse ethnicity in the Y’s service area:  63 percent of residents are Caucasian; 19 percent are African American; 14 percent are Hispanic; and a combined 4 percent are Asian, Native American or multi-racial.

To secure the site, the Y and the City of Grand Rapids — working with the Downtown Development Authority — engaged in a land swap to secure the DASH parking lot.

Nelson said that preparation for the Y’s programming expansion is based on research and site visits to YMCA facilities in Charlotte, N.C., and Nashville, Tenn.

“These organizations provided best practices examples of both programming and design and use of facilities,” the Y’s Web site indicated.    

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