Exclusive: Future of 145-year-old YMCA in one of Norfolk's poorest communities still up in air

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Posted at 2:32 PM, Jan 18, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-18 17:47:11-05

NORFOLK, Va. - It doesn't look like your typical YMCA - it has no workout room, pool or exercise facilities. It is modest inside, because the Hunton Y simply just serves the community, nourishing, teaching, and providing care to more than 300 low-income families.

"Always here for the community." That's what the sign says outside the door on Charlotte Street.

The Hunton YMCA has been doing just that since 1875.

"All you have to do is walk in, see children, and you see value of what the Hunton Y has done for 145 years," said Attorney Joseph Waldo, who represents the Y.

The Hunton Y serves the Tidewater Gardens community and its children, providing them hot meals, daycare and after-school programs.

But soon, the public housing community will be raked - redevelopment is looming, and by this time next year, the Y may become a retention pond.

"They are wondering, 'Who will our new friends be? What school will we go to?'" said longtime director Brenda Gibbs, who spoke to News 3 about this same issue in 2019.

Gibbs says they are bleeding money operating on a shoestring budget, burning through grants just to help these kids.

"The clock is ticking. The Hunton Y is fighting for survival because the children still need to be taken care of, but the Hunton Y is in no man's land right now," said Waldo.

Waldo is representing the Hunton Y pro bono. That's because the city is offering to buy the land Hunton sits on for $2 million, up from $1 million two years ago, and far less than the tax value of $4 million.

"We knew off the bat that was wrong," said Waldo.

Waldo says they offer won't allow Hunton to buy, rent or move the facility.

They say they have contacted the city three times since October to try to come up with a plan.

"What has the city done - three times refused to respond to this 145-year-old Y," said Waldo.

Late Tuesday, we got in touch with the Dr. Chip Filer, Norfolk's city manager.

His statement reads:

I can say that the current site is not an option and I can speak to our ongoing commitment to the historic Hunton Y and our desire to relocate it out of the floodplain. We would hope that the Hunton Y board of directors would recognize that we have a unique opportunity to relocate the Y to a less flood-prone area.

The redevelopment of Tidewater Gardens provides an opportunity to relocate the historic Hunton Y out of the floodplain. Council has asked the administration to work with the members of the Hunton Y board of directors to identify a mutually agreeable, new location for the Hunton Y. City staff are committed to continuing nearly 2 years of conversations to relocate the Hunton Y so that it can operate without fear of flooding for the next century.

Waldo's response for action could soon be taken.

"There is this old saying: 'One strike, two strikes, three strikes, you are out.' Well, there have been three strikes to meet with the city, and now we will have to do what we have to do," said Waldo.