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January 27, 2013

YMCA proposal expanded again

Plans now calling for $15 million YMCA/events center

GREENVILLE — Plans for a new YMCA in Greenville have expanded again and now include a proposed local event center as part of the concept.

Organizers believe the combined venue would help both serve the needs of local residents, while also bringing in revenue from hosting conferences, trade shows and more.

The Greenville City Council has about a month to determine whether to add a bond election for the project, now estimated at around $15 million, to the municipal election ballot in May.

Jerry Ransom, the chairman of a committee named to look into the establishment of a new YMCA, told the Council last week the committee will be conducting three more meetings in the coming weeks to nail down details about the proposal.

“I think the community is excited about the concept,” Ransom said at Tuesday’s meeting. “There is a lot of momentum right now.”

But Council member Dan Perkins said if it does make the ballot, it will be up to the voters to decide if the project goes forward.

“The costs of it, whether directly or indirectly, will be from the taxpayers,” Perkins said.

The Greenville YMCA building turned 50 last year and has fallen into disrepair. YMCA officials say the structure at 1915 Stanford Street has become obsolete and they have outgrown the facility. A fundraising campaign to build a new YMCA in Greenville was formally launched in June 2011. Plans call for the new YMCA to be built next to the Greenville SportsPark along Monty Stratton Parkway.

Greg Sims, President/CEO of the Greenville Board of Development, met with the YMCA committee on Jan. 10 and presented a concept for a combined events center and YMCA, the same presentation Sims made to the Council Tuesday.

Sims said Greenville has few locations which can adequately accommodate major events. For example, he explained to the Council that last year’s annual Boy Scout luncheon was held inside the indoor practice facility on the Greenville High School campus.

“The field house was not designed to be an event center,” Sims said. “If we build it, it will be used as an event center.

The proposal calls for an 70,000 square foot combined facility, with a hotel style lobby, restrooms, porte-cochere, truck service entrance and storage space for tables and chairs.  When used as an events center, the gymnasium would seat 600 people at round tables of 10. It would include a triple gym with walking track, climbing wall, indoor recreation and lap pool, wellness center, IT center, teen center and service areas designated exclusively for YMCA partnerships.

Among those partners, Sims noted, are the Greenville ISD, Paris Junior College, the Hope Center of Greenville, Hunt Regional Healthcare and others. The Greenville ISD partnership would enable the school to have a swim team.

Sims told the Council that the Board of Development had ordered the preparation of an economic development report which is due by Wednesday, although no specific plans for the center have been drawn up so far.

“Right now this is pure concept,” Sims said.

Organizers are now also involved in coming up with ways to reduce the burden of the estimated $15 million in bonds it would take to pay for the facility, which could add approximately $900,000 to the city’s bonded indebtedness per year for up to 25 years.

Sims said everything is being considered, from the Board of Development and the school district offering financial support, to using hotel/motel tax revenue to the sale of naming rights for the center.

“The bottom line is the key goal is to lessen the tax burden on the taxpayers as much as possible,” Sims said. “We’re looking at the whole community for support.”

Presumably, a portion of the revenue generated from events conducted at the facility would also be dedicated toward reducing the debt, which prompted Council member Velma Del Bosque-Hobdy to ask how many events has the city had to turn away during the past year due to not having a place to host them.

City Manager Steven Alexander said that number was unknown.

“There may be opportunities there we don’t actively pursue, simply because we don’t have the space,” he said.

Del Bosque-Hobdy also wanted to know if the current YMCA building would be demolished if the new facility is built.

“Somehow maybe there would be funding to take care of that,” Ransom said.

“There’s an offsetting benefit to it for the services that we can provide,” explained YMCA CEO Kelly Gaudreau.

Ransom said he expects to bring the YMCA Committee’s recommendation to the Council at either the Feb. 12 or 26 Council meeting.

“The Committee is very excited about what we’ve come up with and we look forward to sharing the final details with you,” Ransom said.

The next YMCA Committee meeting is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Fletcher Warren Civic Center and is open to the public.

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