By Kevin Collison
For perhaps the first time ever, downtown will be home to a high school swim team, one of many community-building opportunities cited last week at the kickoff event for the new YMCA at the Lyric Theater.
The beginning of a civic endeavor that began in 2011 when YMCA executive David Byrd, fresh from Nashville, announced his goal for a Downtown Y brought together top civic and city leaders.
“This is what this work will be about, not a fitness center or a health club, but a place for people to gather in the downtown community,” Bryd told the audience in front of the historic Lyric at 10th and Central.
“That’s what this dream is all about.”
Mayor Sly James, who has included a push for a more inclusive Kansas City in many of his public appearances as his term winds down, said the new Downtown Y expected to open in spring 2021 will help further his vision for the city.
“Any time that you have a building, a location, a venue where people come together — people of different stripes, different colors, different ages, different walks of life…then we all have a chance to get to know each other better,” James said.
And in getting to know each other better we have a chance to alleviate and eliminate some of the things that divide us.”
Not that the new $35 million Downtown Y won’t have what you would expect.
The 62,000 square-foot facility will include a wood-floor gymnasium, indoor walking and jogging track, a fitness center with the latest cardiovascular and strength training equipment and an indoor family pool and lap pool.
That’s where the high school swimming team comes in.
The new Y is on the same block as the Crossroads Academy elementary school at 1015 Central, and close to the new Crossroads Academy high school that just opened this fall in the historic Thayer building at 816 Broadway.
Dean Johnson, the president of the charter school, said the new Downtown Y will allow students to take swimming and life guard lessons, and the high school to launch a swim team, the Crossroads Prep Trailblazers.
“All of us at Crossroads are overjoyed to welcome this new kid on the block,” Johnson said.
The formal name of the planned facility is the Kirk Family Community Center in honor of the late Phil Kirk and his brothers Frank, a YMCA of Greater Kansas City board member, and Michael.
“My parents told us you put back more in the city than you take out,” Frank Kirk said.
Phil Kirk, the former chairman of DST Realty, was instrumental in helping Byrd identify a site for his project as well as identifying funding to help pay for it.
The Downtown Y is perhaps the last act of DST’s 25-year legacy rebuilding the west side of downtown.
Almost half the funding for the project, $16.9 million, is from the 11th Street Corridor Tax Increment Financing District. The TIF Plan was established in 1992 to help DST Realty and its parent entity DST Systems pursue its redevelopment plan.
Frank Kirk described the Downtown Y as the final project of the vision for reviving the west side of downtown laid out by Bill Deramus III and his brother Phil.
Deramus, who died in 1989, was chief executive of Kansas City Southern Industries, which was once the parent company of DST.
Among those attending the Downtown Y kickoff ceremony were Tom McDonnell, the former CEO of DST Systems, and Michael Merriman, chairman of Financial Holding Corp., which once partnered with DST on many of its redevelopment ventures.
In recent years however, DST has quietly withdrawn from the downtown development role it had filled and the firm was acquired last summer by SS&C Technologies Holdings of Connecticut.
Sean O’Byrne, vice president of the Downtown Council, said the new Downtown Y will be another big asset for downtown’s increasing residential population, now estimated at 26,000 people.
“One of our major goals is to a attract families,” he said. “We are with a wonderful school (Crossroads Academy) and this will take us to the next level through the Kirk facility.”
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