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Deal with HIP makes new downtown YMCA 'real'

The new YMCA facility will bring between 1,200 and 1,500 people to downtown Barrie daily, says CEO

The YMCA can move ahead with planning a new facility in the west end of downtown Barrie following an agreement with HIP Developments to secure land near Dunlop and Bradford streets.

At the YMCA of Simcoe/Muskoka’s annual Spotlight Gala at the Southshore Centre, officials announced they had entered into a memorandum of understanding with Waterloo-based HIP Developments, which is building mixed residential at the former Barrie Central and Prince of Wales school sites.

An MOU states the intentions of the two parties, who can then work toward a binding agreement.

“This is a very exciting time for us,” Rob Armstrong, chief executive officer from YMCA of Simcoe/Muskoka, told BarrieToday on Monday. “This was really a kick-off point for us and it makes this project real.”

HIP Developments president Scott Higgins said a deal between HIP and the YMCA makes the entire development in that corridor that much better.

“This is still about the totality of one site,” Higgins told BarrieToday on Monday, adding a YMCA at that location will also be beneficial to people living in the residential development upon its eventual completion in a few years. “This is us working with the city and working with the ‘Y’ for over two years on getting to this point.”

Higgins says the land deal should allow everyone involved to pursue their plans at the site, including HIP’s development along Bradford Street, a new YMCA facility located kitty-corner to Pizza Pizza at Dunlop and High streets, and the city’s redevelopment of the W.A. Fisher Auditorium on Dunlop.

“I think it’s a win-win for everybody,” Higgins said.

“If everything happens the way we think it will, it’s going to have a great community benefit,” he added. “It’s fantastic for the residents in our buildings to have the YMCA and their programming on the site. It would also be fantastic for them to have a performing arts theatre, with maybe even a small conference centre attached to it.”

For now, the deal allows YMCA officials to move ahead with planning for a new facility, a project the ‘Y’ has been pursuing for several years. Armstrong says the 'Y' has outgrown the current Grove Street West facility, which was built almost 50 years ago.

While Armstrong says the new facility, which includes a $10-million capital campaign, will have a lot of the “traditional” programs found at the YMCA, this project is being envisioned as a “hub” for the downtown, with additional programs delivered by partners such as Youth Haven and Royal Victoria Regional Health Centre.

Armstrong tells BarrieToday the new facility will bring between 1,200 and 1,500 people downtown daily.

“They’ll not only be using the ‘Y’, but they’ll be shopping, going for lunch and engaging in other things. We think that’s a big opportunity for that part of downtown and certainly a great opportunity for us,” he said. “We want it to be the centre of the community and a place where people come, particularly for that part of downtown.”

Armstrong said he’d like to see a shovel in the ground sometime around the winter or spring of 2020, followed by possibly two years to build it.

Mayor Jeff Lehman said he’s a fan of the new location.

“By being in such a prominent location in our downtown, the ‘Y’ will be a gathering place for our community,” Lehman said in a YMCA news release. “Being in this location is where the Y’s impact is going to be particularly well felt.”

The YMCA-HIP agreement means the ‘Y’ can now work toward selling its property on Grove Street West, neighbouring Highway 400 near Bayfield Street.

The new ‘Y’ will be funded through a combination of funds generated through the redevelopment and sale of the YMCA’s Grove Street property and a capital campaign, to launch in the new year. Former Georgian College president and CEO Brian Tamblyn and Anna Cheaney, former regional vice-president at RBC, will co-chair the capital campaign along with honorary co-chair and former mayor, Janice Laking.

The development of the new facility will be phased and the existing building on Grove Street will remain in operation for up to four years, allowing the YMCA to plan for relocation without business interruption, according to the organization. 

There are still some moving parts with how the whole site comes together.

HIP Developments has also been working with the city on a land swap, which would allow the city to face W.A. Fisher Auditorium with visions of redeveloping it into a downtown theatre attraction and possible convention centre.

That land swap has yet to be finalized; both sides have waived conditions in the purchase-sale agreement, with a closing date sometime possibly in December.

HIP recently closed the sale on 44 Bradford St., which was the final piece of privately held land. The next step for that building is to begin removing asbestos, beginning on Tuesday and lasting for about two weeks, following by demolishing the house by the end of the year.

That will be pretty much it for on-site progress, as the site moves into the planning stages with the city.

Higgins says HIP also hopes to submit its planning applications to the city soon.

“We needed this all resolved to see what kind of boundary we were going to plan to,” he said. “Now that we have that boundary done, we’ve worked with architects on some conceptual plans, now that we know what land is going to be left and what is there for us.”

Higgins says HIP is looking at around 600 residential units on the site, in mid- to highrise buildings across three or four buildings.

“We should be able to deliver a great project for the City of Barrie,” he added.