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A Year After Fire, YMCA Works To Update, Expand

By Cece Nunn, posted Mar 24, 2016
Cecil Worsley III (left) and Dick Jones stand in front of the YMCA building on Market Street that is being redone after a fire last year. (Photo by Chris Brehmer)

For the Wilmington Family YMCA, insurance has proven to be a lifesaver.

That’s how president and CEO Dick Jones described the Y’s policy about a year after a devastating fire temporarily shut down the nonprofit organization’s headquarters at 2710 Market St.

“The building itself had damages in excess of $2.8 million, and we have reached a settlement agreement for that amount,” Jones said during an interview in February. “One of the decisions that we had to make early on with the board [of directors] was, ‘Do you put it back the way it was or do you take this opportunity to really create a brand new look and feel for the YMCA?’”

In the end, there was only one answer, Jones said: to expand and upgrade the nearly 50-year-old facility while also not abandoning plans to expand to other parts of the Wilmington area.

Moving on

On Feb. 7, 2015, the fire started in the sauna room at the Y. On Feb. 8 this year, YMCA officials announced that the Y’s board had approved a conceptual vision for the Market Street YMCA that emphasizes a broader focus on youth, aquatics
and wellness.

Jones and YMCA supporters see expansion plans as a silver lining to the fire’s cloud.

“I’m not saying that we were fortunate to have the fire; the fire was not very fortunate. But it’s made us act, and it’s made us have to plan and move on our strategic plan,” said Cecil Worsley III, chairman of Port City Java and president and CEO of Springer Eubank Co. 

Worsley, a past chairman of the Wilmington YMCA’s Board of Directors, is leading the Y’s capital campaign to raise funds for the Market Street project and satellite locations in the Wilmington area.

“I love the Y … The Y’s a great organization and does great things,” Worsley said. “If you look at our city and other comparable cities, we’re just behind the curve.”

To realize the vision for the organization’s Market Street headquarters, the capital campaign’s goal is to raise $4 million to $4.5 million to add to the nearly $3 million the Y recouped from insurance. 

The Redwoods Group is the Y’s insurance provider. Jones said he sees the Y’s experience as an example of why such insurance is important.

“Nobody likes to write that check. We have a different perspective now,” Jones said. “It has been very good for us.” 

The Y in Wilmington

Since the 1800s, the YMCA has had a presence in Wilmington.

In 1891, the YMCA operated in a three-story brick building with rooms for visitors, an auditorium and swimming pool on the corner of Front and Grace streets, according to a local historian.

In 1972, the current Y facility at 2710 Market St. was built, and additions and improvements came during the following years, according to New Hanover County property tax records. 

These days, the Wilmington Family YMCA serves more than 8,000 people each year, including 2,000 children under the age of 18, according to the Feb. 8 announcement about the organization’s new beginnings after the fire.

As the largest fitness center in the area in terms of membership, “The Y had to stay in operation” after the fire, Jones said.

The organization opened temporary facilities by leasing space in nearby shopping centers. An “Express Y” welcomes members in more than 15,000 square feet of space in Market Plaza, a shopping center bordered by Market Street and South Kerr Avenue.

Jones said the Y was offered “favorable lease terms” by Mike and Brian Prevatte, the owners of the center and longtime Y members and supporters.

The Express Y has been helping the organization rebuild its membership base as well as take care of members’ needs.

After the fire, “We lost probably 35 percent of our membership,” Jones said.

But, Jones added on Feb. 18, “we probably have added 10 percent back already. It is growing every day.”

In July last year, the Y’s six-lane pool reopened followed by its indoor, four-lane pool being available for use again in December.

Satellite locations

While the main focus for the time being for the Y’s leaders is updating and expanding 2710 Market St., their plans also include adding facilities elsewhere.

“Back in 2010 we did a market study to try to figure out, ‘Are there some other locations that would be able to support a YMCA?’ and asked a lot of community leaders, did surveys, and we identified several locations that were really deemed as having not only population support but the philanthropic support for a Y,” Jones said. 

Multiple locations are part of the Y’s vision, Jones explained.

“We were beginning to track down that path until the fire kind of put us back on our heels a little bit,” he said.

The Y has worked with local developer Raiford Trask III on bringing soccer fields, a field house and a program facility to Blake Farm, a master planned community that will be located on a 1,300-acre site in Pender County. The YMCA’s offerings at Blake Farm would be expanded in subsequent phases to include a bigger building and more fields.

“As you look at the growth of our community, it is growing north, continues to grow as Hampstead continues to grow south so that [Blake Farm] certainly is obviously a great location to have a presence up there,” Jones said.

Factoring in the need for funds for the YMCA facilities at Blake Farm and elsewhere, the Y’s entire capital campaign goal is about $9 million.

But putting first things first, the Y has been working on choosing a contractor and architect to bring the new vision for 2710 Market St. into being. Part of that vision includes expanding the pools, going from one six-lane and one four-lane pool to a potential six-lane pool and 10-lane pool.

The demand exists, Worsley said, for expanded offerings. 

“We just need the help of the community,” he said. “We need the corporations, businesses in the community to support us."

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