I attended the public forum this week to find out more about the proposed move of the YMCA to the waterfront in the Moran building. If this is the first you’ve heard of the move, you’re not alone. Word about this project is just gathering interest as the city is moving to make decisions regarding the project.
The main reason I attended the meeting was because I really didn’t know anything about it. This is what I learned:
The YMCA needs a new building. The current building is too small, falling apart, and is something like 95% inaccessible to the handicapped. That is what one of the board members of the Y said during the meeting, and this was backed up by several other employees, administrators, and members of the Y.
The Moran building has been vacant for something like 20 years. If you are not familiar with the building, it is a large, rusty looking box of a structure just north of the Coast Guard station at the waterfront. It is generally considered an eyesore (though some people call it beautiful…eye of the beholder kind of thing), and is covered with some graffiti, roughly matching the look of the old train box cars on the tracks nearby. Currently, the Community Sailing Center has space in the building.
The terms of the move are pretty hard to pin down in exact terms. From the meeting and a few articles in the Free Press, this is what I gathered:
· The Y will get the building for 100 years for a $1 lease from the city. It is unclear if this is $1 for the whole 100 years, or $1/yr for 100 years. Either way, pretty small.
· The Y will remodel the building at their cost.
· $10 million dollars is involved somewhere. This is where I get confused.
I’m not sure if the city, or the Y has to come up with $10 million. I believe this is the cost of renovation and the Y is coming up with it. This figure has not been backed up by any data that I have seen.
Pros of the Y being in the Moran building:
· It would provide a year-round focus point for the waterfront. Currently, the waterfront recreational area is only seasonal. It’s pretty much vacant during the winter.
· The Y would renovate the building making it potentially much more appealing aesthetically than the current building.
· The Y would provide a service that is available to children and the elderly, as well as the general public.
· The Y has a fantastic reputation as a community partner.
Cons of the Y being in the Moran building:
· The Y would provide virtually no money to the city for prime real estate, perhaps the best piece of property in the entire city according to the Free Press.
· The benefits of the Y affect a very small portion of Burlington’s population. One speaker at the meeting said membership accounts for less than 5% of the population compared to projects like the boathouse or waterfront park that are available to all for little or no cost.
· More traffic would be directed to the waterfront area. The project may cost more than $10 million. One speaker suggested $20 or $30 million.
· If the Y gets approval, it would close discussion on the use of the building and other ideas for the location were suggested such as a music pavilion.
The speakers in favor outnumbered the speakers against by about 3-1. However, nearly all of these speakers were employees, board members or members of the Y. The only person that spoke in favor of the move who was not a member was David Zuckerman, a Burlington member of the VT House of Representatives in Montpelier.
Of the non-member speakers, no one stuck out in my mind as speaking against the plan necessarily, but instead suggested we take more time with the issue and leave it up to the public with a vote on the issue.
Considering this issue is a $10+ million project, it involves the nicest piece of real estate in the city, and it may congest traffic in the downtown area even more than it already is, I agree that the public needs to give its approval for the project to proceed.
The public forum will continue Monday (Dec 17) and the city council is supposed to vote on the initial approval of the project.