WATERTOWN — Dr. Jason White recalled the days when he could get an open-faced turkey sandwich in the restaurant at the old F.W. Woolworth store that’s going to be turned into the Watertown Family YMCA’s $18.1 million community and aquatics center.
Dr. White and about a dozen other members of Advantage Watertown learned more about the Y’s community center project when they took a tour of the now vacant complex at 146 Arsenal St. on Thursday morning.
“You could sit in a booth over there and look out on Arsenal Street,” he said about eating at the department store’s Harvest House restaurant.
Three weeks ago, the Jefferson County Industrial Development Agency secured a $9 million federal grant for the project that will be located in the center of downtown.
YMCA CEO Denise K. Young showed off the project’s conceptual plans to the group of community and business leaders.
“It’s going to transform the whole community and transform the health of our community,” she said.
The YMCA will buy about 60,000 square feet of space in the former call center for $500,000 from the JCIDA for the project.
The community center will consist of a six-lane lap pool, a separate full-size recreational pool, two full-size tennis courts with a running track above and several other amenities.
Mrs. Young has described the project as a catalyst for economic growth and will change the atmosphere of downtown forever.
After they’re done with their workouts, people will be able to quickly head to downtown businesses and nearby restaurants to have lunch, Mrs. Young said.
“We really want to connect with downtown,” she said.
A section of the building that will house a wellness center will feature a series of large windows that will allow light to shine out into the downtown street in the dark of night, Mrs. Young said.
To accommodate the tennis courts, the building’s roof in that section will have to be elevated and a small addition will be built near the front entrance so people can see kids or seniors swimming in the recreational pool.
With plans proceeding on the Y project, the JCIDA hopes it has lined up a second tenant for the remaining nearly 15,000 square feet of space the Y will not occupy for its project.
David J. Zembiec, Jefferson County Economic Development deputy CEO, said Thursday he expects the unidentified company will make an announcement about moving into the other space.
Constructed in 1971, the building has a long history in downtown, starting out as a flagship store for the national chain that got its start in Watertown. It was turned into a call center in 2003.
The complex has been dark since Concentrix — the last of three companies that operated the call center — closed shop in the building in July 2019.
Dr. White, Advantage Watertown’s chairman, had not been in the building since the former call center was a beehive of activity with hundreds of employees working in bright green and royal blue cubicles.
“I’m excited about the vitality that it’s going to create for downtown,” he said.
A development campaign will soon start to raise the remaining money needed to proceed with the project. Design and engineer work will continue until construction begins next summer. Completion of the project is slated for fall 2022.