Downtown YMCA planners look at more options, including the Lyric Theatre

05/02/2014 10:24 PM

05/02/2014 10:24 PM

The historic Lyric Theatre, silent since the symphony and opera left in 2011, could resound with the bounce of basketballs and other healthy racket under a plan being explored for a proposed downtown YMCA.

Supporters of the Downtown Y Community Center plan had been focused on a site at 10th Street and Grand Boulevard for the past year but are pausing now to explore two other options that would eliminate the need for an estimated $9 million, 500-space parking garage.

“We’ve been doing very well with fund raising,” said Peter DeSilva, the business executive leading the Y fundraising. “The one challenge has been raising money for a garage. There’s not a lot of philanthropists who want their name on a garage.”

DeSilva, president and chief operating officer of UMB Financial Corp., said the Y has been approached by the owner of the Lyric at 11th and Central streets on a renovation plan for that historic property.

In addition, VanTrust Real Estate is pitching a site for a new Y building in the East Village development area at 11th and Cherry streets. The location is east of the 780-space public garage built for the J.E. Dunn Construction Co. headquarters.

“We spent a fair amount of time exploring the 10th and Grand site, and it still remains the preferred site, but a few things have emerged that merit another look,” DeSilva said. “One is a proposal to rehab the Lyric as a YMCA and community center.”

DeSilva said he’s been impressed with some preliminary designs showing how the Lyric could be renovated to become a YMCA.

“Some of the early drawings are amazing,” he said.

The downtown Y proposal, first reported by The Star two years ago, calls for a 100,000-square-foot facility for three swimming pools, large gymnasiums, locker rooms, saunas and therapeutic massage rooms, classrooms, a cafe, meeting rooms, a rooftop garden and a courtyard.

It includes a healthy-living center where downtown corporations could send employees for classes, a summer day camp, programs for teens and a licensed early childhood education center for 100 children. The original estimated cost, including the 500-space garage, was $39 million.

The YMCA of Greater Kansas City also is planning to overhaul its Linwood branch at 3800 Linwood Blvd. DeSilva said substantial progress had been made raising $7 million for that project. Big commitments also have been made for the Downtown Y, DeSilva said, but he declined to reveal the amount.

The planned Downtown Y Community Center would mark the return of the YMCA, at least in a major way, to downtown after a long absence.

The original downtown Y opened in 1907 at 10th and Oak streets and operated until 1981. The seven-story building was torn down in 1999 to make way for Ilus W. Davis Park.

Renovating the Lyric as a YMCA is the latest idea suggested for the building that opened in 1926 as the Ararat Shrine Temple. In more recent times, the 3,000-seat theater had been the home of the Kansas City Symphony and Lyric Opera.

DST Realty bought the building in 2007 for about $2 million, allowing the Lyric to leave the 110,000 square feet it had occupied in the old building and move to more efficient space at 18th and Charlotte streets. The Lyric property is now co-owned by the Merriman family.

At one point, the Lyric was suggested as an alternative site for the downtown performing arts center. But that plan was scrapped, and the symphony and the opera became anchor tenants at the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts, which opened in 2011.

DST Realty later pitched the building as a site for a Federal Aviation Administration training center being closed in Florida, but the FAA eventually chose not to replace the facility.

Most recently, the building was suggested as a potential location for the proposed University of Missouri-Kansas City Downtown Campus for the Arts, which would include moving the Conservatory of Music and Dance. But that idea was discarded in 2012. UMKC is now considering two sites near the Kauffman Center.

Parking for the proposed Y at the Lyric could be accommodated on a surface lot east of the old theater building. Additional parking would be available in two nearby garages controlled by DST Realty.

Phil Kirk, the retired chairman of DST Realty, has been involved in fundraising for the Y capital improvement plan and said he suggested the Lyric and East Village alternatives as options to save money on parking.

Still, Kirk suggested a three-level garage with up to 600 parking spaces could be built for a relatively low cost on the vacant lot east of the Lyric. The garage could serve the YMCA, the nearby Crossroads Academy charter school and surrounding apartment residents.

Kirk said the garage could use the same tax-increment financing assistance recently authorized for an expansion of the Crossroads Academy. The charter school at 1015 Central St. recently won city approval for $5.5 million in TIF incentives to acquire the building next door at 1009 Central St. and expects to enroll 270 students next fall.

Renovating the Lyric would not only help the Y get into a less expensive facility but please history buffs as well, Kirk said.

“The saving of the Lyric would be supported by people who are historic preservationists and not necessarily supporters of a Y,” he said.

As for the East Village site, it’s not as close to the core of downtown as the Lyric or 10th and Grand sites, but Kirk observed that someday that area is expected to include a new eight-block neighborhood east of Ilus W. Davis Park.

VanTrust Real Estate took over the lead development role at the East Village last year from Swope Community Development. It would like to build up to 600 apartments on the north half of the East Village site and office space on the south side.

If the YMCA were to choose the East Village at 11th and Cherry, parking could be accommodated in the J.E. Dunn parking garage.

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Sean O’Byrne, vice president of business development for the Downtown Council, said his agency, which has been helping the Y with its fundraising, supports any of the three options being considered by the YMCA.

“The Y will need to show donors that this is a great economic deal, and I think it’s very good due diligence on their part to find a site that works and is fiscally responsible,” he said.

As part of their review process, the YMCA also is planning a survey of 1,200 downtown residents, commuters and employees to gauge their response to the Lyric and East Village alternatives. Previous surveys have indicated strong support for the 10th and Grand location.

The results of the survey are expected by late summer.

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