City’s Funding Is Crucial For New YMCA Building
I have been acting as the volunteer Chairman of the New Jamestown YMCA Committee for a couple of years now and I feel that it is critical that the true story of where this project stands and its importance for the long range health of the Jamestown Region be told in a factual and unvarnished manner to give our entire community some perspective.
There are many positive aspects to report. The Harrison Street site has been acquired by the Y at a very low cost. This site will be safe and will accommodate free on site parking. The design has been completed which includes about 10,000 sq ft of incremental child care space- enough for about 90 new kids. The site plan has been finalized and preliminarily approved by the City. The site is a brownfield clean up site and has been accepted into the Brownfield Clean Up program by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation which will now allow Brownfield Tax Credits to be generated when construction begins. These credits will help to offset the construction cost. In other words, the project is “shovel ready.”
On the financing side, we have gratefully received about $4 million in commitments from local foundations towards the total estimated construction cost of about $30 million. These foundations continue to prove what a tremendous asset they are to our community by investing in worthwhile developments and we are very thankful for their partnership. In addition, we have been vigorously pursuing funding from many other sources including Federal New Market Tax Credits, Tax Free Bonds, Federal Earmark programs, regional foundations, the CCIDA and many other sources. Eventually, we will launch a local capital campaign as well.
We have made a lot of progress on many aspects of the project but the biggest negative so far is that we have been turned down by New York State for funding assistance – twice. A significant funding commitment from New York State is crucial in allowing us to help convince other funders that the project has grassroots support and therefore has a good chance of happening. Our first application for grant funding from the state was early on and we had no other support at that time, so we anticipated that request might be turned down. But we wanted to get this project on the state’s radar screen in an official way since they had expressed a great deal of interest in it during several preliminary meetings and phone calls with them.
The second application did include the funding commitments from the local foundations but we could not include any financial commitment from the City of Jamestown because our verbal funding request for $2 million was rejected by the Jamestown City Council. We were told in no uncertain terms by state officials that this was going to be a significant impediment for our application. We needed to clearly demonstrate local financial support and since the city chose to not invest any of the millions of dollars it received in federal ARPA funding into this project we were not able to do that and our application for funding was denied. This second rejection by the state has really had a huge negative impact from momentum and timing standpoints.
Timing from this point forward is absolutely critical. The YMCA is currently offering the majority of its programs and services from an outdated building that is nearly 100 years old. While the Fourth Street facility was a godsend in the 1920’s, the cost of maintaining the antiquated structure prohibits any real growth. The current YMCA operation is not sustainable in the long run and Y officials estimate that it has about two years left before it will not be financially viable in its current form. Every day that goes by without moving the project definitively forward hurts the chances of success. From where we are now, the “best case” construction schedule is to begin construction in the summer/fall of 2024 and open the new facility in the spring of 2026 so there is already a significant timing gap. Once we can show that we have the funds to build the new Y, it’s likely that we would be able to finance that gap — but the longer it is, the tougher that will be to do.
What are the consequences if Jamestown does not have a Y – an establishment which it has had for nearly 100 years? Those who use it to just work out will no doubt be able to find alternatives.
But what about the true mission of the Y? What will happen to the hundreds of families and thousands of kids who rely on the programs and services provided by the Y each and every day? What will the social and economic costs of dealing with these complicated problems be? This will no doubt create long- term issues. Will adequate financial and manpower resources be provided to step up and fill the gap for these kids and families or will they simply fall through the cracks?
Furthermore, with no modern, safe and clean family health center available, enticing families to relocate to the Jamestown area will be even more difficult.
This is a code red situation and what we need right now is energy and support. If you think that this project is important, please get involved in any way that you can. Talk to your friends and family. Organize group meetings and invite officials to attend. Contact your local and regional governmental officials and demand support for this worthwhile project. Go to public meetings and talk about the importance of the YMCA for the future of our area. For so many people in our community, myself and my family included, the YMCA has been a huge part of our past. Let’s work together to ensure that future generations can say the same.
Thomas P. Benson is chairman of the New Jamestown YMCA Committee.