Days could be numbered for YMCA in Norfolk community

Posted at 1:44 PM, Oct 24, 2019
and last updated 2019-10-24 17:41:36-04

NORFOLK, Va. - Brenda Gibbs wipes sweat from her face as she runs through the halls of the William A. Hunton YMCA.

She's a woman who wears several hats.

"These children mean everything to me," Gibbs said. "I grew up poor. Had it not been for the YMCA I went to, I wouldn't have known what to do."

But, her YMCA's days could be numbered. Established in 1875, it is situated in the midst of Tidewater Gardens public housing in Norfolk.

William A. Hunton YMCA in Norfolk

The Norfolk Redevelopment and Housing Authority has told the YMCA the facility could soon be condemned or re-purposed as part of the city's St. Paul's revitalization project.

Gibbs says more than 300 low-income families rely on the YMCA's services, day care and meals each day.

"These kids are worried about what's going to happen in the future," Gibbs said. "Who will their friends be? What school will they go to?

"We have been told by the city we will be one of the last buildings, last providers to leave, but we don't know what will happen after that."

Several Norfolk businesses, YMCA board members and civic leaders held a press conference at 3 p.m. Thursday at 1139 Charlotte Street to discuss the YMCA's future. Leaders stressed the Y was in financial distress, but expressed disappointment with a recent offer from the Norfolk Redevelopment and Housing Authority.

"The housing  authority has identified this site where children come every day as a site for a future retention pond and they offered us 1 million dollars to purchase," said Joe Waldo the attorney representing the Hunton YMCA

He says the land the Y sits on is valued at $4 million dollars, and $1 million wont cut it.

In a late afternoon statement,  the NRHA confirmed the offer of the YMCA's  building and land for $1 million, with an option for the Hunton YMCA to rent the property from the NRHA at no cost for five years.

"When you revitalize a community, you wipe away its history, its memories," Gibbs said. "Our children form friendships when they are little. These friendships go on through a lifetime, and now we're talking about disrupting that."

Gibbs says not only is the future unknown, but the YMCA is in serious financial debt.

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"We are very fragile, we don't have multi-million dollar donors, we raise $1,500 at a fundraiser and we are happy," said Gibbs. "We are there in this low-income community trying to make it better, turn it around, but it takes money."

The NRHA's proposal to the YMCA also includes the provision of technical assistance and support to assist the Hunton YMCA in continuing to serve its community.

"The intent of the offer was to provide enough operating revenue for the facility while the Hunton Y sought to increase administrative capacity and develop a sustainable business plan," a statement from the NRHA read.

It also said that the YMCA is under no obligation to accept the purchase and leaseback offers, and no condemnation actions are being taken or anticipated.

As the clock ticks forward and the unknown looms, Gibbs is desperate for a glimmer of hope so the children in her community can continue to get the assistance they need.

"I would say, 'Help us so we can help our kids.' We want to assure them we will be there for them, but how can we do that when we don't know?"