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Harlem Y stays put

Cyril Josh Barker | 4/12/2011, 5:23 p.m.
Plans to move the Harlem YMCA to 125th Street have been scrapped, but the Y...
Harlem Y stays put

Plans to move the Harlem YMCA to 125th Street have been scrapped, but the Y is committed to staying in Central Harlem and providing a state of the art facility, according to President and CEO of the YMCA of Greater New York Jack Lund. Not getting enough time for funding is blamed for the stop of the proposed move.

Ground was suppose to break in the next six months on the new Harlem YMCA, which was going to be a part of a retail and hotel space at 125th Street and Malcolm X Boulevard, abandoning its long-standing building on 135th Street. The new state-of-the-art facility came with a price tag of $45 million to $50 million.

"In our final analysis, probably the most important factor in our decision was the speed with which this project was going to move forward," Lund told the AmNews. "The timeline grew short, and as we began to look at all of the funding sources that would be required, we just said that, right now, we are not in a position to commit to a project."

Working with Wharton Developers, the new YMCA was part of a citywide project to improve several YMCA branches in the city. Lund said that out of all of the branches, the Harlem branch was one of the most problematic, needing constant repairs. Initial renovations to the Harlem YMCA were done in the early 2000s, with $10 million spent since then to keep that facility open.

However, even with constant renovations, the building has proven to be undersized. The new building that was to be built would have provided 65,000 square feet for the facility.

There are 25 YMCA branches across New York City. Lund said that the cluster has the oldest capitol asset of all of the YMCA clusters in North America, with the average age of a facility being almost 60 years old. The Harlem YMCA was built 80 years ago.

Lund said, "We looked at the feasibility of renovating the existing Y, but the result of that was the recognition that even with an enormous financial investment, we would still end up with an undersized Y that wasn't relevant for the things we wanted to do."

The YMCA of Greater New York has been looking for new space in Harlem. In fact over 25 sites have been looked at in the very recent past, but each has failed to be the right fit. One idea that was on the table was to expand to the neighboring public school for a partnership.

Lund explained that building a YMCA in the city is often a difficult task, leading the nonprofit organization to latch onto larger projects. "When a community invited us to build, they would meet us at the town line with a brass band and we would march to the site and start digging holes," he said. "That's not how it's done in New York City. It's very complicated, but we found a formula that has worked."

In 2006, the YMCA of Greater New York launched a set of projects to improve all of the facilities in the city. However, things changed when the storm of the economic crisis hit, giving the organization fewer funds.