YMCA’s pullout from Gateway Project won’t doom it, officials say

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Y needs to expand faster than project’s timeline would allow — but it still supports many of elements of the plan

By Ginna Goodall, Correspondent, UnionvilleTimes.com

Although the Kennett YMCA needs to expand more quickly than the Gateway Project would have allowed, it will remain in support of the project to improve Anson B. Nixon Park and build a new Bayard Taylor Library.

KENNETT SQUARE — The rumor-mill has been grinding for weeks with chaff from the Kennett YMCA’s announcement of their pull-out from the Gateway Project collaboration, a $25+ million dollar project also involving Bayard Taylor Library, Anson B. Nixon Park, and the borough.

But that decision was not a complete surprise according to former borough mayor Leon Spencer, chairman of the Kennett Area Community Development (KACD), and the other affiliated members of the group that is overseeing development of the proposed complex.

It was known that the YMCA had begun working on an expansion strategy for their outgrown facilities long before the initiation of the Gateway Project by developers Michael Walker and Larry Bosley, said Spencer.  He admits it would be difficult for the YMCA to delay their plans when their clientele has already grown to many times the intended capacity for their building.  Rather than being distressed or disappointed, Spencer, a candidate for Borough Council this year, said the KACD is very understanding of the Y’s urgency.

In spite of the departure of a key member of the partnership, KACD is “not going to give up; where there were four, now there are three.”  The board still sees the project as completely viable and a positive for the community at large.  There is no immediate change to the vision of creating a complex at the western edge of Kennett Borough along State Street that would incorporate a new library, a parking garage, and an elevated walkway providing access to Anson B. Nixon Park from the library and the YMCA.  The project has received the backing of the Kennett Borough as part of its Strategic 5 Year Plan for land use and planning implementation.   Congressman Joe Pitts, State Representative Chris Ross, and State Senator Dominic Pileggi have pledged their support of the initiative, and together with the Chester County Economic Development Council, are all seeking possible means for funding through both the state and federal governments.

Funding has always been the crux of the Gateway discussion, with the intention of looking to both public and private resources.  Last Fall, the KACD obtained approval of their IRS tax-exempt status, which offered hope that construction might begin as early as 2013.  In light of the recent withdrawal of the YMCA, Spencer acknowledges that obtaining grant monies will be an increasingly difficult challenge.  The synergy of the combined four entities of the project carried a strong impetus.  The Y is still willing to share their fundraising expertise, even offering the use of relevant software materials.

Spencer also indicated that the YMCA remains interested in continuing with the collaboration of building a new parking garage, which will be located on YMCA property.  The professional fundraising firm originally considered to lead the capital campaign is no longer in the mix and alternatives are being reviewed.

Asked about the possibility of including another organization to fill the void within the Gateway Project, Spencer regards that as a possible option down the road.  In particular, he suggested that the Kennett Senior Center might be an ideal match, in consideration of the changing needs of their programs and the limitations of their facility.  However, for the time being the KACD intends to clarify where they currently stand, with their major intention to focus on the parking element of the project.

As local retail businesses and corporations, such as Genesis Health Care, consider bringing more visitors and jobs to Kennett Square, parking continues to loom as a significant impediment. The Gateway Project has already involved a considerable investment of time and resources in the initial planning of this community expansion and revitalization, and KACD is looking ahead to its ultimate completion.

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