By Kevin Collison
Downtown’s new “flagship” YMCA is ready for action, but unless you’re a kid, you won’t be swimming, working out, playing basketball or participating in a myriad of other healthy activities until later this year.
That’s because the Y leadership is doing a gradual roll out of their new $35 million Kirk Family YMCA at 1029 Central beginning with kids summer camp this June.
“The best use of resources right now is to open for camp this summer, which will address the important need to provide learning and social opportunities for youth and to support working parents,” John Mikos, president and CEO, said in a statement.
What the summer camp kids will find starting June 7, and adults later on, is a grand return to downtown Kansas City by the YMCA of Greater KC after a 40 year hiatus. A smaller Y adult fitness facility has operated in Quality Hill since 1989.
The old, seven-story Downtown Y at 10th and Oak closed in 1981 after operating there since 1907. It was demolished in 1999 to make way for Ilus W. Davis Park.
The new Kirk YMCA, which began construction in 2018, incorporated the facade and lobby of the old Lyric Theater and built a 42,000 square-foot addition behind it using limestone from the same quarry as the original theater that opened in 1926.
BNIM was the architect and J.E. Dunn the contractor.
“I’ve done 14 construction projects for the Y and this one is the new flagship for the Kansas City YMCA,” said Mark Hulet, acting chief operating officer. “It’s a legacy and contemporary building put together.
“This signifies our return to the downtown community to for those who work, live and play here in downtown.”
Hulet was seated at the new visitor desk in the ornate lobby of the old Lyric. While the boxes and fixtures scattered around signal it’s still not completely ready, the building received a city certificate of occupancy in December.
But because of the Covid pandemic and the dramatic reduction in downtown employees, the Y decided to open its new facility slowly, anticipating a return to full activity later this year at the office blocks surrounding it.
“Why we can’t be completely open to the community, we can serve children who’s parents are returning to work,” Hulet said.
During a walk through its three levels of activity space, he showed off the three community rooms, including a one equipped with a kitchen for teaching people healthy eating, and three spacious studios for group exercise.
The most architecturally impressive part of the tour was the 42,000 square foot addition which features two-story windows flooding the spaces with natural light. A large area with dozens of exercise machines is on the west side overlooking Central Street.
At the center of the second floor is a basketball court and on the east side overlooking the Y’s 145-space parking lot is another open area with exercise equipment. Circling above is the one-tenth mile running track.
And on the first level, two, 20-by-25 meter (22-by-27.3 yard) swimming pools, one for activities, the other laps, are waiting for the first kids to begin splashing.
On the north side of the addition, there’s an outdoor playing field that also can be used for events.
The new Kirk YMCA is expected to employ eight people in leadership roles and 125- to 140 others staffing programs and overseeing the pool and other exercise programs.
Planning for a new downtown Y began in 2011 when former YMCA executive David Byrd, fresh from Nashville, announced it as a goal.
The project was funded by $16.9 million in tax increment financing from an existing TIF plan, $4 million in state tax credits and substantial additional private contributions from foundations and individuals.
The Downtown Council, an organization of business and property owners, organized the early fundraising effort. A ground breaking ceremony was held in November 2018.
It was named the Kirk Family YMCA in honor of the late Phil Kirk. Kirk, who died in 2014, was a former DST Realty executive who had a big role redeveloping downtown and spearheading the effort to build the new YMCA.
Hulet said the decision by the city to allow TIF funds to help build the project was key, as well as the many donors who stepped up.
“We’ve reached out to all the donors and some have been through the building and they’ve been wowed every time,” he said. “Without the private and public donations this project would not have happened.”
He emphasized the new Kirk Family YMCA will not only be a place for recreation and exercise, but a center for all the other community services offered by the Y.
Throughout the pandemic, other YMCA locations have provided free, all-day childcare for working parents, hosted virtual learning classes and distributed food. Over the past two months, 7,500 people have been vaccinated for Covid at the Linwood Y.
“This is an opportunity for the downtown community, residents and businesses, to understand the mission and vision of the Y,” Hulet said.
“We offer opportunities for kids and families to live a better lifestyle and learn about healthy living.”
Sean O’Byrne, Downtown Council vice president, said the new Y will help make downtown a more family-friendly place. He pointed out the building is located by the Crossroads Academy charter school and the Downtown Library.
“As for downtown investments, this is a triple grand slam,” O’Byrne said.
“It saved a wonderful historic facade, it’s providing health opportunities that are great for workers and tenants, and third, if you want to build community, you need a rock solid YMCA and is one of the finest in Missouri if not a four-state region.”
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