YMCA buys land downtown

Greater Wichita YMCA officials closed this week on a piece of land near the Central Branch, the first step, they said, toward the construction of a new downtown branch.

The YMCA has purchased the former Tangible Advertising building at 433 N. Broadway and an adjacent parking lot, board president Tom Lasater said. The new multimillion-dollar downtown branch also will house the organization's administrative offices.

It plans to launch a capital campaign and continue trying to acquire property adjoining the Central Branch at 402 N. Market, Lasater said. No timeline for the project has been set.

"It's to give us the ability to better serve the center part of the city with a new Central Branch that we plan to build in the next year or so," Lasater said.

The announcement is a boon to efforts to revitalize downtown, said Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer and Jeff Fluhr, president of the city's downtown development organization.

"The current Y that's there now, there's no doubt that it's somewhat outdated," Brewer said. "If you have a Y downtown, no question people will use it, and it does fit nicely into the profile we're building downtown. People need services and services bring people downtown."

Fluhr said the return of the YMCA's corporate offices downtown will be used as a selling point to recruit other companies. The organization's headquarters are currently in the North Branch at 3330 N. Woodlawn.

"It means growth in the employment base downtown and it means opportunities for the work force, amenities companies can offer their employees," Fluhr said.

The announcement follows a failed effort by the city and YMCA earlier this year to locate a new branch on city-owned land at First and Waco, just north of the Broadview Hotel. That property will now be used in downtown revitalization efforts as the city attempts to lure private investors.

"Even though things didn't work out for them to go to the river, they're still downtown and there's still a need for them," Brewer said.

"As we start with the master plan for downtown's future, there's no doubt what the Y is doing will fit."

Lasater said the YMCA board won't commit to the type of building it will build until the land-acquisition process is complete.

He said the Central Branch, opened in 1958, will remain open as construction begins in the current parking lot — making parking during construction an unavoidable problem.

"The property near us is pretty fragmented and carved up," he said. "We're keeping our options open right now, depending on what property is available, how it's configured and what we can build with a new branch.

"To the extent that we have more (property) rather than less, we'd like to build something without so many levels. That's something that can save us some money."

Potential users shouldn't expect a carbon copy of the YMCA's newer branches in northwest Wichita and Andover, Lasater said. However, the new branch will be built with the same programs in mind for central Wichita.

"The design is not complete, but it will be different," he said. "It will be more user-friendly, more open. It may still be multi-level, but to the extent we can build here and still just use a second level for a running track, it will be a lot less expensive."

The new Y will incorporate more parking spaces, Lasater said.

"Everyone's concerned how they're going to park and get to the arena, and we expect usage downtown to grow, so we're going to need more parking," he said.