YMCA, city looking to partner on health care hub in southeast Fort Worth

By Scott Nishimura snishimura@bizpress.net

(UPDATE, Aug. 28: YMCA has scheduled a land dedication, 10 a.m. Sept. 4 at the Mitchell Boulevard site, verifies Amon Carter Foundation will donate to broader capital campaign that includes this branch. Carter officer John Robinson will be present.)

(UPDATE: Mayor Betsy Price says in an interview the City Council is behind the idea of building a swim center at the new Renaissance Y. “We can hardly afford to let this opportunity pass us.”)

The YMCA of Metropolitan Fort Worth, a year after being detoured on its original route to a new branch in southeast Fort Worth’s burgeoning Renaissance Square development, has taken a site there under option and is preparing to launch a capital campaign to build what leaders envision as an anchor for a health care hub in the underserved area.

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The city’s talks with the YMCA to build an aquatics center at the new branch, with the Y willing to take over operations and costs upon opening, got a boost Thursday. In her Twitter Town Hall, Mayor Betsy Price, in response to one question, responded, “we’re planning to partner with @FortWorthYMCA to construct a facility in Southeast #FortWorth.”

Southeast Fort Worth is considered the city’s next priority for an aquatics center, and city leaders have been on the lookout for ways to stretch public dollars by teaming up with other organizations like the Y.

Tony Shuman, the YMCA’s CEO, said in an interview Friday that the Y has significant interest among potential donors in the new branch.

“All indications are the major donors here in Fort Worth are very excited about this project,” he said.

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Price, in an interview Saturday after dedicating a new public art sculpture on the Trinity River, said the City Council is behind the idea of an aquatics center at the Renaissance Y. The council, during a recent capital projects workshop, agreed to continuing discussions.

“It gives us a chance put a pool in an area that’s badly underserved,” said Price, whose Tweet caused a stir among the stakeholders. “We need to get a pool out there. It enhances the improvements, and it’s a great leverage for our tax dollars.”

Shuman confirmed the Y put down a deposit and entered into a 90-day option contract last week on its desired 6.84-acre site on Mitchell Boulevard next to the Mitchell Boulevard Elementary School.

The Y is now in an inspection period on the site and, assuming the site passes, will take the site under option for “a couple of years” and launch a fundraising campaign, Shuman said.

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The estimated $8.3 million cost of the land and construction would be part of a $15 million campaign the Y is getting set to launch that will include the branch and improvements to the Y’s Camp Carter and south Fort Worth sports complex, Shuman said.

The Y is aiming to secure all pledges for the Renaissance Square branch by the end of 2015, so it can begin construction in early 2016 and open in 2017, Shaman said.

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 ranging from infant mortality to diabetes and obesity by building a modern facility at the new and emerging Renaissance Square and teaming up with nearby schools and health care providers moving into Renaissance.

The Y was blocked 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.

Where the money would come from for the aquatics center isn’t clear, but the council has options.

The city paid for the recently opened $3.8 million Marine Park pool on the North Side, for example, using $3 million from capital reserves and $1.8 million from federal Community Development Block Grant money.

Other potential sources include the city’s gas well revenues and excess fund balance, staff members say.

Savings from projects that come in under budget are another possibility, Price said.

“We’re just going to have get real creative,” she said. “We can hardly afford to let this opportunity pass us.”

If the city is able to fund the construction of an aquatics center, “it’s probably about three times the size of the pool that we would build,” Shuman said.

It would also save the Y $800,000-$1 million in construction costs, he said.

The city’s Marine Park pool operating and supply budget for this year is $186,667.

Shuman said the Y wants to take the projected $1.5 million-$2 million it expects to receive from selling the McDonald and Miller Avenue properties into an endowment to fund the Renaissance Square operations. The Y still plans to close the Miller Avenue center and move its services into the Renaissance branch, when that facility is completed.

The Y is talking to the Fort Worth schools on a partnership with the Mitchell Boulevard Elementary School, Shuman said. He envisions, for one, a program in which the Y would teach all second graders how to swim.

“It’s part of our DNA to operate pools,” he said.

The Y is under contract to buy the Renaissance site for $1.8 million from Fort Worth Mason Heights, L.P., run by Happy Baggett, the developer who launched the 200-acre, Walmart-anchored 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.

Baggett, who subsequently sold the 67-acre retail piece of Renaissance Square to Lockard Development, has likened Southeast Fort Worth to a “retail desert” prior to getting Walmart and a slew of other national chain retailers.

Similiarly, he refers to the area as a “medical desert” that forces residents to drive miles outside the area to find care. health care providers have long been interested, but haven’t had a major real estate product to move into, he said.

Cook Children’s has purchased a site in Renaissance and this fall will open its first-ever combined medical, dental and behavioral clinic.

“We’ve got two more major Fort Worth (health care) institutions that are looking at land out there,” Baggett said in an interview.

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.

The Y has one major donation in hand that represents about 10 percent of the project, he said. The Y is planning a Sept. 4 land dedication, where it will erect a sign, launch its campaign, and potentially identify the lead donor, he said.

Other pieces of the Y’s pending $15 million campaign, Shuman said:

Camp Carter: relocation of entrance to the historic entry, renovations to the dining hall, new deck, replace outdoor pavilion, addition to high ropes course.

Sports complex near Southwest High School: Night lights, connection of Trinity Trail system to Lake Worth, in partnership with the city and Streams and Valleys nonprofit.​