A worthy project

The Watertown Family YMCA will use space inside the building at 146 Arsenal St. for its proposed community center. Julia Hopkins/Watertown Daily Times

The Watertown Family YMCA’s proposal to create a community center took a huge step forward last week when it worked out a deal to use space within the Arsenal Street building that formerly housed a call center.

Officials with the YMCA reached a tentative agreement with the Jefferson County Industrial Development Agency to purchase about 60,000 square feet of the 76,000-square-foot structure for $500,000. The organization’s planned $16 million facility would include aquatics, racquet sports and a wellness center.

Concentrix operated a call center in the building and employed about 250 people. But after it lost some major clients, it closed the business this past summer.

Members of the JCIDA board approved the agreement during their meeting Thursday. The YMCA board is expected to do the same Dec. 17.

“YMCA officials have been working on the project since the fall of 2017 when the city started planning its $10 million Downtown Revitalization Initiative program. They’ve been looking for a site for the community center after a deal to build it on the former Medical Arts Building site on Clinton Street fell through last winter,” according to a story published Friday by the Watertown Daily Times. “Plans have called for the aquatics center to consist of a six-lane lap pool, a separate full-size recreational pool, a full-service wellness center, an arts/multipurpose room, two indoor tennis courts and a running/walking track. The project has received $2.133 million from the state’s Consolidated Funding Application program. YMCA officials also are seeking multiple sources to fund the project, including $1 million to $2 million in federal New Market tax credits. The New Market Tax Credits program encourages private investment in low-income communities.”

As part of the deal, the YMCA will be required to put down $50,000. The closing will occur within 120 days. Donald C. Alexander, chief executive officer of the Jefferson County Local Development Corp., said that two quasi-government agencies are in discussions with the JCIDA about using the remaining 15,000 square feet of space in the building.

The YMCA began exploring the idea of creating a community center after the city of Watertown received a $10 million grant through the state’s Downtown Revitalization Initiative. But this was not one of the projects selected to be allocated DRI funding.

The YMCA will launch a capital campaign soon. Combined with other sources, this hopefully will pull in the necessary funding to complete this project.

The building on Arsenal Street, originally a F.W. Woolworth department store, was previously used by a company called Convergys. This firm operated a call center and employed as many as 600 people.

But Concentrix bought the company in October 2018 and began laying off workers. Its closing was an unfortunate turn of events.

It would be tremendous to have another company employing hundreds of people at this site. But the soft economy in the north country makes this unlikely.

Developing a community center run by the Watertown Family YMCA in this space could have some real perks for the city. Offering a variety of activities, it would bring numerous people downtown. Surrounding businesses can take advantage of the additional foot traffic.

This also would allow the YMCA to fulfill a long-term goal of offering more programs. It has seen the need for this over the past few years, and an ambitious plan like its proposed community center would address this issue.

We commend YMCA and JCIDA officials for coming to terms on this agreement. Residents will benefit from having this project come to fruition, and we hope they join the effort to bring it about.

Johnson Newspapers 7.1

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