Monday, June 24, 2024

YMCA to reopen Sunday nearly four years after fire

The $10 million renovation project comes to a close as the city's leaders discuss the YMCA's impact on the community.

Nearly four years after a fire rendered the building uninhabitable , Wilmington's YMCA on Market Street will re-open this Sunday. (Port City Daily photo/Courtesy YMCA of Southeastern North Carolina)
Nearly four years after a fire rendered the building uninhabitable, Wilmington’s YMCA on Market Street will re-open this Sunday. (Port City Daily photo/Courtesy YMCA of Southeastern North Carolina)

WILMINGTON — In February of 2015 a fire broke out in the sauna of Wilmington’s YCMA building on Market Street, shutting down the city’s largest recreation and fitness center for nearly four years.

On Sunday afternoon, a grand opening for the Nir Family YMCA will end a long period of recovery and renovation.

According to Dick Jones, President and CEO of YMCA of Southeastern North Carolina, the fire spread quickly due to 1960s-era construction materials and an outdated building code, which did not require a water sprinkler system in the building.

“The building was rendered unusable, and the board had a decision to make: put it back the way it was, which insurance would cover 100 percent of the costs, or use the opportunity to modernize and bring state-of-the-art design,” Jones said.

Re-locating was not on the table at the time, Jones said, as a key goal was to keep serving the people of downtown Wilmington. Many of its roughly 7,000 members had come to the building since the 1960s.

“That decision was a very important one,” Jones said, “and the vision was cast at that point to build a new building, with new design standards utilized.”

When Jones and the board realized their “vision was bigger than the insurance payment,” they decided to raise their own capital. A “silent” phase of the campaign initially raised more than $4.5 million, according to Jones, and a public phase this past year raised an additional $1 million.

“When the project is completed, we will have spent $10 million,” Jones said.

The city’s mayor, Bill Saffo, was glad to see the YMCA’s return to the city.

“I applaud the YMCA and all of their members for their resilience in rebuilding after the fire and congratulate them on this achievement,” Saffo said Thursday afternoon. “This facility will serve the community for years to come.”

Although local contractor Thomas Construction was on target to complete the project by early December, YMCA spokesperson Sarah Gibbs said final shipments of gym equipment and furniture were delayed by Hurricane Florence.

“But the timing is still in our favor with New Year approaching,” Gibbs said.

‘It’s so much more than a building’

District Attorney Ben David speaks to television reporters two days before Hurricane Florence made landfall. "It’s so much more than a building, and it’s proven that over the last four years since it burned down." (Port City Daily photo/Mark Darrough)
District Attorney Ben David speaks to television reporters two days before Hurricane Florence made landfall. “It’s so much more than a building, and it’s proven that over the last four years since it burned down.” (Port City Daily photo/Mark Darrough)

For long-time member and District Attorney Ben David, the YMCA’s re-opening on Sunday is a reason to celebrate – for both his family and the city’s courthouse.

Aside from watching his own kids “grow up there,” he said the YMCA’s influence on the community expands beyond the building itself.

“We rarely see healthy people at the courthouse,” David said Thursday evening. “Just about everything we see is the result of either drugs or mental illness or people making poor life choices, and engaging in bad habits.”

He said many of the issues that plague the Wilmington community, including drug addiction and violence, stem from poor choices that can be altered by good health.

The local YMCA chapter is the largest provider of after-school programs in the Cape Fear region, and according to David, roughly a quarter of the kids that exercised at the building prior to the fire were on some form of financial assistance.

“It’s so much more than a building, and it’s proven that over the last four years since it burned down,” David said, adding that its programs have since grown with the help of community partners and a smaller midtown YMCA that opened in 2017. “But it’s important for this movement to have a home. When you think of its diversity, in every respect – race and religion, age, and all the different backgrounds under one roof – it’s rare for our city to have a place like that.”

Ultimately, David said that good health and exercise is one of the best crime prevention tools at his office’s disposal, and the YMCA’s re-opening is a significant milestone for the city.

“But it’s also about the pursuit of happiness. And to me that’s an inalienable right that’s often overlooked,” David said.

Details

The YMCA’s grand opening event will be held Sunday, Dec. 30, from 1 to 4 p.m. at 2710 Market Street. A ribbon-cutting ceremony will be held at 1 p.m., and discounts on memberships will be offered during the event.

Those who attend will be able to tour the facility, demo the equipment, meet the staff, and enjoy food and refreshments.

For more information on the event, visit ymcasenc.org/grandopening.

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