Amon Carter Foundation kicks in $1 million toward YMCA campaign

By Scott Nishimura

The Amon G. Carter Foundation has committed $1 million to a $10.6 million capital campaign that will go to build a new YMCA of Metropolitan Fort Woth branch at the burgeoning Renaissance Square development in Southeast Fort Worth and make improvements to the Y’s Camp Carter and athletic fields in south Fort Worth.

Tony Shuman, the YMCA of Metropolitan Fort Worth’s chief executive, confirmed the amount of the gift at a land dedication Thursday for the planned $8.3 million Renaissance Square branch. The largest part of the gift is expected to go toward the new branch, John Robinson, executive vice president-grant administration of the Carter Foundation, said in an interview.The branch has been envisioned to become a hub for health and educational services in the underserved area. Walmart, anchor of the retail side of Renaissance Square, has helped draw numerous other retailers since opening in 2013.

“The southeast quadrant of town has been studied,” Robinson said. “This is the best chance in a very long time to create a critical mass of services for the community.”

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The city of Fort Worth has been talking to the Y about a partnership to build an aquatics center, and Mayor Betsy Price said during her recent “Twitter Town Hall” that the city would team up with the Y.

The Y has made requests for $5-$6 million in gifts to other major donors, Shuman said in an interview.

“We should know by the first quarter next year where we stand with those,” he said in an interview.

He wants to have 70 percent of pledges for the branch in hand by the end of the first quarter and close to 100 percent of pledges in hand by the end of 2015. Groundbreakking won’t occur before 100 percent of fundraising is complete, Shuman said.

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The Y is targeting an early 2017 opening.

The Y is under option to buy the Renaissance site for $1.8 million from Fort Worth Mason Heights, L.P., run by Happy Baggett, the developer who launched Renaissance Square after buying the property at U.S. 287 and East Berry Street in 2005.

The partners would kick in $600,000, meaning the Y would pay $1.2 million for the site.

Baggett said Renaissance’s growing stable of education, health and educational services has created interest from other institutions that are looking to enter the development.

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ACH Child and Family Services, Uplift Education, and Cook Children’s are among the others, and the Y branch will be next to the Mitchell Boulevard Elementary School. Leaders of the area, which Baggett has termed a “medical desert” because of the dearth of services, say the services can work together to do everything from help children learn to swim, to cut down on the incidences of infant mortality in Southeast Fort Worth.

“This is the epicenter of tremendous things,” Baggett said Thursday.

The YMCA plans to consolidate its two Southeast branches – McDonald and Miller Avenue – into the new one at Renaissance Square, reasoning it could better attack prevalent health problems in the area at the better location.

The Y was blocked last year in its original plan to sell the McDonald branch to a multifamily developer and use the proceeds to buy the Renaissance site in June last year, when the City Council voted down a rezoning after a church pastor organized opposition against support from neighborhood leaders.

The Y has since closed the McDonald branch, put it up for sale, and consolidated it with the Miller facility, while it switched to a backup plan.

The new Y branch will include pre-school and after-school programs, camps, and a kitchen that will serve meals for preschoolers and double as a demonstration kitchen for cooking classes, Shuman said.

The McDonald site served 200 members. The Y estimates it would generate 4,000 memberships and serve about 10,000 people at the better-located, Renaissance Square.