May 9, 2005
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GRAND RAPIDS — The YMCA of Greater Grand Rapids will take possession of the David G. Hunting YMCA in five weeks. YMCA officials will hold a dedication ceremony on June 24 and then open the $29.3 million facility to the public on June 27.

Construction is wrapping up on the 159,000-square-foot, amenity-loaded, three-story, state-of-the-art building, which will become the very first LEED-certified YMCA in the nation. Visser Brothers Construction is directing the project, while Integrated Architecture designed the building.

"They were very good with the LEED certification," said Ron Nelson, president and CEO of YMCA Greater Grand Rapids, of Integrated Architecture.

"That was important to us, as well."

Nelson said John Hunting, son of David G. Hunting, was first to suggest that the new Y meet LEED criteria and encouraged YMCA officials to go ahead and apply for certification.

"We then consulted with the YMCA of the USA to find out what other YMCAs had gone through that process, only to find out that we were it. We are now leading the way for other Ys across the country," said Nelson.

Although construction has taken close to two years, YMCA officials began working on the project at least three years earlier. Nelson said the effort started when they inventoried all the facilities and wondered what they could do with the Downtown Y, which was located in a building that opened in 1915.

Then they discovered that a suitable piece of property was available on Lake Michigan Drive, just a few blocks west of the Grand River. And after the YMCA negotiated a deal for the parcel with the city and the Downtown Development Authority, Nelson then knew where the Downtown Y and the YMCA on Leonard Street NW would soon be headed.

"We connected the idea of both the West and the Downtown Y coming together to form this one beautiful Y. So, that's how that happened," he said.

But raising the $29.3 million, a figure that includes the property cost, was a different type of challenge for YMCA officials, as it became the largest amount of money the organization ever had to raise.

"There was some sticker shock, yes, when you look at the total involved and how you're going to raise it, particularly knowing that the largest amount we had previously raised was about $4 million on any single campaign," said Nelson.

"On this one we did our market research and we knew we could do a certain amount through bond financing, that was $13 million of it. What was left was the $16.3 million that we decided to tackle from a philanthropic standpoint," he added.

The sons of David G. Hunting Sr. — David, Allen and John — got the campaign off to a rousing start by contributing $5 million and giving the YMCA almost a third of the funds it needed with one donation. In return, Y officials decided to name the new facility in honor of their father.

"It has been unbelievable," said Nelson of the reaction the Y has received to its request for financial support. "It will be four times what we've ever raised in any single campaign. The response has just been phenomenal, from individuals in particular, from foundations and from families.

"We have had quite a few individuals who have used us as an opportunity to honor or recognize family members. Three sons chose us in a way to honor their father and there are other similar situations within the building that siblings have decided this was a great institution and a great location."

Nelson said the fundraising drive should close at the end of the month and reach its goal then. The Y was only about $700,000 short of the $16.3 million needed when Nelson spoke with the Business Journal.

Once the organization gets settled in its new building in late June, Nelson said he would close the sales deal with Second Story Properties on the old Downtown Y at 33 Library NW. Second Story, headed by Sam Cummings and John Green, plans to renovate the structure into condominiums that will be marketed to older adults.

Then later this year, YMCA officials will hold another dedication ceremony for the new Wolverine World Wide Family YMCA — a 46,000-square-foot facility being built on 18 acres at Post Road and Jupiter Drive in Belmont. The Wolverine World Wide Foundation gave the lead gift of $1.15 million last June to the $7.1 million building.

Rockford Construction is managing the project, while Design Plus did the architectural work. Nelson said Dec. 1 has been set as the tentative date for that building to open.

"Rockford Construction told us they're actually ahead of schedule," he said. "So if we can open a month earlier, we would be ecstatic."    

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