The Unified Government Commission is expected to vote Thursday, July 30, on a proposal to extend the fundraising for a community center downtown, part of the healthy campus proposal.
Mayor Mark Holland last Thursday asked the Unified Government Commission for a year’s extension on raising $6 million to build a community center downtown to be run by the YMCA and to be part of the proposed healthy campus. The extension would be until Aug. 1, 2016.
The issue will be one of the items in the budget vote that will take place on Thursday.
Two years ago, the UG Commission approved $6 million to be given to the project if the YMCA could come up with a match of $6 million from other donors. The UG’s pledge would expire this year unless it approves the extension.
The money that was pledged by the commission was to come from casino funds that the UG receives.
In his quarterly report on the healthy campus last week, Mayor Holland stated that the fundraising effort in Kansas City, Kan., had been tied to the effort to raise funds for a new downtown YMCA in Kansas City, Mo., with Y officials reasoning that they could ask major donors for donations to both projects at the same time.
After the UG made its commitment, the 10th and Grand location in Kansas City, Mo., failed because donors did not want to fund a $10 million parking garage, and the project was delayed, according to Mayor Holland.
In May 2015, Kansas City, Mo., approved $17.5 million in tax increment financing for another YMCA location, the Lyric Theater site, he said.
“Essentially, we started fundraising in May of this year,” Mayor Holland said, because it was postponed for a year while a new site was found.
The mayor is taking an active role in the fundraising. He said already, $1 million has been pledged by the Wyandotte Health Foundation.
Mayor Holland said the UG also is continuing to work on getting a new grocery store for the healthy campus.
The UG received proposals and engaged Charles Ball grocers in 2012, but delayed the project in order to work on site location plans, he said.
The mayor said the UG wanted to make sure the grocery and community center were built in the right location.
A master plan was brought forward, a group started working in June as project manager, and is working on site identification, identifying other business investments and working on site acquisition for the grocery store and community center, he said.
“There’s been a ton of activity on this project, it is not that the project is stalled, it is not that the project is being unsuccessful, or that we’re being turned down, it’s simply because of the timeline and the multiple moving pieces that we have,” Mayor Holland said.
“Essentially, we paused the project to do the study, and then Kansas City, Mo., paused the project while they found another site,” he said. “Each of those was about a year of lost time that we had to hold off on initial fundraising. I believe it’s better to do it right than to do it right now, and I believe that our fundraising ask is stronger because we’ve got the healthy campus plan, because we have a project manager and because we’re moving forward with Kansas City, Mo.”
Commissioner Mike Kane asked if the UG should “take one bite of the apple at a time,” and not try to build the community center and grocery store at the same time.
The mayor responded that the projects are independent, but “our downtown is in such dilapidated shape, if we could leverage these two together into a planned development, where they would have synergy with one another – because if you just put one over here and one over here, you’d have a ton of blight in between.”
He said the community center and grocery could be put together in a planned location, where they would leverage further development including housing. He would like to see both directly on the bus line. After public comment sessions were held with the community, it was learned that the community did not want the community center right on top of the JFK recreation center, he said.
“We’re leveraging other economic development assets to bring together a critical mass that we can build off of, east and west on Minnesota and north and south of that same area,” he said.
The projects are fully independent financially, but now the UG has the idea of the location and proximity. He said it is better to plan it out than to get it in the ground as fast as possible.
“I want to do it right and I want to leverage this $30 million joint capital investment for a transformation of our whole downtown,” Mayor Holland said, “where 2 plus 2 equals more than 4.”
Commissioner Brian McKiernan, Commissioner Gayle Townsend and Commissioner Harold Johnson expressed support for the one-year extension.
“I understand that it looks daunting but we’ve done a lot more daunting things in Wyandotte County,” said Commissioner Jane Philbrook.
The UG has been funding the Eighth Street YMCA for a few years, while waiting for the new YMCA building to go online. About $75,000 is proposed from the UG budget for the Eighth Street YMCA.
Commissioner Kane said a lot of people, especially youth, use that facility and he didn’t want to see it shut down as the UG plans another facility.
Some commissioners wondered how long they would have to keep giving money to the Eighth Street facility.
“I just have a real heartburn with another $75,000,” Commissioner Townsend said. “It’s not as if we haven’t given them something already.”
“I share in Commissioner Townsend’s heartburn,” Commissioner Johnson said. “Since we already made a commitment to the Y, up to this point, we probably at least need to fund them for one more year. It pains me to say that, until we know the outcome of the fundraising.”
He said maybe the commission ought to decide that this payment would be final. Commissioner Kane suggested telling the Eighth Street Y that this is it and they have a year to get it together.
Commissioner Hal Walker said realistically, if the mayor comes back in a year and says he has the money for the new Y, then they’re still looking at two more years of keeping the Eighth Street Y open until the other facility is built, unless some of the funds raised go toward that purpose of keeping the old facility open while construction is going on.
Mayor Holland said at this time next year, they will know whether they will build the new Y or not. A transition plan could potentially be incorporated into the cost of the Y, he said. The Y might need to come with a transition plan that can show how their fundraising plans will help bridge the two years of keeping the Eighth Street facility open while they’re building the new Y facility, he said.