YMCA, blocked in plan to build Southeast Fort Worth branch, switches to Plan B

Posted Friday, Aug. 23, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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The YMCA Fort Worth, blocked by the City Council to rezone the location of its Southeast branch and sell it to raise money for a new location in the Mason Heights/Renaissance Square development nearby, has put Plan B into action, its CEO confirmed Friday.

The Y board voted Thursday to consolidate the McDonald branch at 2300 E. Berry St. into one on Miller Avenue a few miles away, said Tony Shuman, the Y’s CEO.

As part of the plan the Berry location would be put it up for sale and the Y would enter into an option to buy a discounted 7-acre site at Mason Heights as it studies the feasibility of raising money for a new branch there, he said.

The Y would also continue talking with the city about teaming up on an aquatics center, Shuman added.

“I don’t want to close facilities,” Shuman said. “It was going to be a seamless transition. But we’re truly serious about moving to Renaissance Square.”

The McDonald site serves 214 members – or about 475 people – today, Shuman said. The Y estimates it would generate 4,000 memberships and serve about 10,000 people at the better-located, more “relevant” Mason Heights/Renaissance Square, Shuman said.

“Huge difference,” he said.

The Y had sought to rezone its scenic hilltop site on Berry Street to allow apartments, and it had a deal to sell the site to a developer who planned 200 market-rate units. The Y planned to use the money from the sale to buy the Mason Heights site; leaders of several neighborhood associations backed the zoning request, citing their confidence in Mason Heights developer Hap Baggett, who represented the apartment developer.

But the pastor of a church across the street from the McDonald site opposed it, and the council denied the rezoning in June.

Multi-faceted plan

The Y expects to consolidate the McDonald and 2801 Miller Ave. sites by the end of October, Shuman said Friday.

The Y will remake the Miller space to add weight and exercise rooms and bring portable buildings onto the site for after school programs, he said. The Miller branch already has a preschool.

In keeping with the Y’s original plan, the Miller site would still eventually close and be consolidated into a new Mason Heights branch, Shuman said.

The Y will list the McDonald site, zoned for community facility, for sale at $1.2 million, Shuman said.

That is the same as what it would cost to buy the Mason Heights site next to Mitchell Boulevard Elementary School. Baggett said his partners estimate their site is worth more than $2 million.

The Y will launch a feasibility study on raising money for a new branch, and expects to complete it in January, Shuman said.

Assuming the board gives the go-ahead, it would take the Y about a year to raise the money and another year to build a new branch, Shuman said.

The $7 million budget includes about $700,000 for a “leisure pool,” similiar to what the Y has at its Ryan and Northpark branches in south and far north Fort Worth, Shuman said.

Community partnerships

The Y has been talking to the city about teaming up on a bigger aquatics center at the site.

Fort Worth earlier this year opened the new, $3.8 million Marine Park aquatics center on the city’s North Side using capital reserves and community development block grant money. The city’s aquatics master plan calls for a site in Southeast Fort Worth, and citizens asked for it during recent public meetings held in the district on the city’s 2014 bond program.

The City Council, facing tough budgets and competition for capital projects, has consistently talked up partnerships. The city has teamed, for example, with the Y on the Northpark branch and the Fort Worth schools on soccer fields.

“We’ve built a good relationship with those agencies over the years, and we always want to have discussions about potential projects,” Richard Zavala, the city’s parks director, said Friday. “It doesn’t mean they’re always going to come to fruition, but you don’t get to cut-the-ribbon stage if you don’t have those discussions.”

Baggett said his partners view the addition of the Y as the healthcare equivalent of having anchored the development with the recently opened Walmart.

Baggett’s Mason Heights limited partnership purchased the 197-acre Masonic Home site and subsequently sold 67 acres for what became the Walmart-anchored Renaissance Square site. The other side of the development is called Mason Heights and includes planned residential, medical, office, and other uses, including the Y. The entire development is commonly referred to in the community as Renaissance Square.

Walmart drew numerous other national retailers. Baggett said the prospect of the Y’s addition has generated significant interest from healthcare providers interested in Southeast Fort Worth.

“They know there’s a business in Fort Worth, but where can you go where there’s a controlled environment, where you know what the buildings are going to look like, what the landscaping’s going to look like?” he said.

He likened Southeast Fort Worth to a “food desert” prior to Walmart’s grocery entry.

Similiarly, with healthcare, “there’s a medical desert over there,” he said. “People in southeast Fort Worth have to travel someplace else in the city to get medical services other than county or state services.”

Seeking donors

The Y and its board have already approached potential major donors on the Mason Heights branch, and generated interest based on the potential attack on Southeast Fort Worth’s problems with diabetes and obesity, Shuman said.

The Y will team with the elementary school and other nonprofits and healthcare providers, Shuman said. The site is also signficantly better served by public transportation, he noted.

“I have lot of head-nods, but I don’t have any signatures on paper yet,” said Shuman, adding a campaign like this would have to generate at least a couple of $1 million donors.

To get the Y after the city blocked the McDonald rezoning, Baggett said his partners offered to build the branch and lease it back to the Y. The Y balked, fearing it might not be able to generate contributions once the branch was up and running, Baggett said.

Baggett said his partners then offered to finance the project at less than 5 percent interest.

Baggett and Shuman said final terms are still subject to negotiation. Shuman said the Y wants to put up earnest money and enter an option to purchase the site that would be long enough — perhaps two years — to complete a capital campaign.

Scott Nishimura, (817) 390-7808 Twitter: @JScottNishimura

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