Marquette YMCA to expand

MARQUETTE – The YMCA of Marquette County will be undertaking a major expansion, thanks to a nearly $3 million federal loan announced today.

The $2.99 million loan, which comes through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development Agency, will allow the organization to double the size of its current wellness center, create a new health innovations suite and add two new gymnasiums.

The loan-funded project will increase the YMCA’s overall square footage by about 68 percent and should result in a dedicated gymnastics area, which will include a bouldering wall.

“We’re so excited to be able to do this,” said Lisa Coombs-Gerou, CEO of the YMCA of Marquette County. “It’s so needed.”

Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Lansing, announced the loan this morning.

“The YMCA in Marquette is already helping so many families live healthier lifestyles and become involved in the community,” Stabenow said in a written statement. “This rural development loan will allow the YMCA to help even more individuals with chronic diseases like diabetes improve their health and build two new gymnasiums to support youth sports and activities.”

Coombs-Gerou said the YMCA has been considering expansion for years, but the organization’s hand was forced in part by the amount of traffic coming through the doors.

“The biggest thing is we are packed,” she said. “When you come to the Y, it is very very busy, and there’s not room to do a lot of things.”

Coombs-Gerou said programming at the YMCA has been increasing in previous years and the plan is to continue expanding services to the community.

“In order for us to be able to continue to serve the community in health and wellness, in youth development, we needed space,” she said. “We couldn’t operate and continue to serve if we didn’t have the space.”

Since early 2009, she said, membership at the local YMCA has more than doubled. There are now nearly 8,000 members.

That constant increase in membership is easy to explain, according to Coombs-Gerou, who has been with the organization for more than five and a half years.

“I think the programs that we deliver to the community are based on what the needs are,” she said. “We’re really targeted. We’re very intentional in the work that we’re doing and we’re here to serve Marquette County.”

The USDA package secured by the YMCA is a 35-year loan with a 3.1 percent interest rate. Monthly payments, Coombs-Gerou said, will be similar to the YMCA’s current mortgage payments. Roughly $300,000 remains on that mortgage and will be paid off by the USDA loan.

The project, which is slated to break ground in July and should be completed early next year, will expand the YMCA footprint to the north and west.

It will allow the organization to designate locker rooms for its senior citizen population and to do maintenance and minor repairs to the pool. Additionally, it will redefine the reception area, creating a new entry way complete with secure doors.

The YMCA was only able to apply for the federal loan after working together with the city and Northern Michigan University to clear up an old deed restriction.

Decades ago, the city acquired the parcel of land from NMU. Though the YMCA owns the building, it is currently leasing the land – located to the north of Fair Avenue and east of Pine Street – from the city for $1 per year. When that deal was reached in late 1997, that 45-year agreement represented the city’s contribution to the YMCA’s efforts to establish a standalone facility.

The original deed contained a reversionary clause that would have prevented the YMCA from expanding. Coombs-Gerou said she asked the parties to attempt to remove the clause to facilitate an expansion and NMU Interim President David Haynes and Marquette City Manager Bill Vajda worked through the language late last year.

“I felt it was that important for our community, and I think that David Haynes and Bill Vajda agree,” Coombs-Gerou said. “It is something that’s needed and they pushed to help make it happen now.”

Kyle Whitney can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250.