The YMCA is paring down its plans for an ambitious and expensive new city branch.
Instead of spending more than $8 million on a new building near Union College, the agency may move into Center City at the heart of downtown.
It would be much cheaper to build a YMCA branch on the ground floor of Center City than to construct a brand-new building, Capital District YMCA President and CEO J. David Brown said. Although he won’t know the full cost until architects draw up the plans and engineers survey Center City, he said, it’s possible the branch could be done there for about $4 million — the amount of money raised so far for the project.
“In preliminary conversations about the concept, we feel we could build something,” Brown said. “We could definitely deliver a YMCA people would be happy with and we could afford.”
He is discussing the matter with the Galesi Group, which owns Center City, and said he will consider other sites as well — although he has no specifics in mind.
He really likes Center City. Not only is it a cheaper option, but he also says the location is great. There’s ample parking in the back, a bus stop near the front door, and office workers surround the building,
“There’s a lot of pluses to that site,” Brown said. “There’s plenty of square footage — there’s definitely room for a pool.”
Center City owners have struggled to find a use for the ground floor, which once offered an ice skating rink and now plays host to a variety of soccer, lacrosse and indoor football players. A successful rock-climbing gym also operates at the far edge of the floor; Brown said that business could remain even if the YMCA took over the rest of the space.
When the Galesi Group recently bought the building, officials of that company said they didn’t envision keeping the playing field and its long rows of bleachers, but admitted they weren’t sure what could replace it. There are no direct entrances to the ground floor, making it difficult to market for retail business.
Chief Operating Officer David Buicko said the YMCA could be the perfect solution to the awkward space.
“We would never be doing retail on the ground level,” he said. “The Y could be complementary. It’s the best location in town.”
Brown still has to get approval from his project donors before signing any deals with Galesi. He said the donors he’s spoken with so far are happy with the new plan, but if anyone says no, he’ll have to decide between returning their money or finding an acceptable site elsewhere.
One thing is for sure — he won’t get any money from Metroplex Development Authority.
The downtown economic development agency doesn’t offer funds to nonprofits, Chairman Ray Gillen said.
“We don’t fund nonprofits. We’re trying to create a tax base,” Gillen said.
But he added that he thinks Brown is making a wise decision.
“This complex is so immense,” he said of Center City. “It makes all the sense in the world. You could do a lot of the Y right here. If you don’t have $10 million but you have $4 million — I think it’s kind of cool to do it here.”
It’s been four years since YMCA officials announced plans to replace their cramped State Street branch with a new building at the Big N Plaza off Nott Street.
But funds trickled in and they had raised just half of what they needed when Golub Corp. expressed an interest in using the plaza last year. Golub wanted to take the entire parcel for its new headquarters, and Brown willingly backed away from the site. As a replacement, he was offered a nearby parcel on Peek Street, which he did not dismiss publicly.
Now he says that site isn’t acceptable, partly because the Y still hasn’t raised enough money to build there but also because of its location.
“We just don’t feel it worked for us, in terms of visibility and other things,” Brown said.
He stressed that there’s no hard feelings about Golub taking his preferred spot.
“We’re excited that Golub is coming. We think it’s great,” he said.
Mayor Brian U. Stratton, who proposed five years ago that the YMCA build at Big N Plaza, said he likes the idea of a Center City Y.
“If it works out the way that Galesi wants it to, it could be a very compelling project,” he said. “It would be a very wonderful place to have a YMCA. It would be more centrally located in our downtown and probably more convenient for the young people who go there. So I think it’s a very fascinating proposal.”
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