News From Terre Haute, Indiana

June 9, 2011

B-SIDES: Terre Haute faces rare Y-less summer, but remedy possible

Mark Bennett
The Tribune-Star

TERRE HAUTE — Sixteen-thousand kids just started summer vacation in Vigo County.

Some will play baseball or softball. Some will attend camps. Some will work part-time jobs. Some will prepare for college. Some will watch TV, hang out, or “just chill” for 21⁄2 months.

Unfortunately, for the first time in more than a century, none will participate in a summer program at a Terre Haute YMCA, YWCA or Family Y. The city’s connection to a Y — of any sort — ended last year. The Riverbank Family & Fitness Center (formerly the Terre Haute Family Y, until it disaffiliated from the YWCA last October) closed in December, unable to cover its payroll and monthly utility costs from revenues. The sad ending frustrated and disappointed many loyal supporters of the facility at Fairbanks Park.

Indeed, a city this size should have a Y. Terre Haute is America’s 475th-largest town. There are 2,687 YMCAs and 300 YWCAs in the country. Certainly, the Haute should fit into that picture.

The possibility still exists.

The YMCA of Clay County board of directors is considering expanding its programming into the Terre Haute market, and has discussed the option of utilizing the facility at Fairbanks Park, said Deborah Plummer, CEO of the YMCA of Clay County. The Clay YMCA is using a research firm, SEER Analytics, to conduct a market analysis of Terre Haute to assess the community’s needs, the programming a YMCA could provide and the potential support from the community.

Plummer emphasized that the YMCA of Clay County intends to continue serving Clay County just as it always has done. “We wouldn’t want to jeopardize anything we’ve already done here in Clay County” by expanding into Terre Haute, she said. The Clay YMCA started in 1927, and has occupied its existing facility on East Kruzan Street for the past 11 years. It has 1,700 membership units, totaling more than 4,000 individual members, Plummer said. That amounts to one out of every five people in Clay County, she added.

A YMCA could, once again, benefit Terre Haute, too, even in a market that includes several privately owned fitness centers. “I think the niche for the Y is that YMCAs are open to everyone,” Plummer said. Programs involve infants to the elderly, and the now-dormant facility at Fairbanks Park includes a pool, which is popular for seniors as well as children learning to swim. When it comes to activities for youngsters once the school year ends, YMCAs — like the one in Clay County — conduct summer day camps.

The past decade, with the recession and financial ups and downs, was rough for Terre Haute’s Ys. The local YWCA and YMCA combined resources in 2006 as a matter of economic survival. Eventually, the old YMCA building at Sixth and Walnut streets closed, and the two merged into the Terre Haute Family Y at the YWCA’s more modern riverside location. Last October, they split from the YWCA and became Riverbank Family & Fitness. A trust fund paid for upgrades to the building and a membership drive boosted the number of patrons, but it still wasn’t enough to cover costs, Riverbank officials said, and it closed. The Indiana Attorney General’s office is investigating complaints related to Riverbank’s debts. But those issues will not affect or involve the City of Terre Haute, which inherited control of the Fairbanks Park facility, or any entity that would move into the building, Mayor Duke Bennett said Wednesday.

“We are free and clear of that,” Bennett said. “It won’t affect the city, and it wouldn’t affect anybody who would move in there.”

Other details related to the ownership of the building’s contents and the property also have been cleared up, Bennett said. The city has a “verbal agreement” with two banks to purchase the contents, the mayor explained, and that equipment will belong to the Parks Department, as will the facility and its grounds. A prospective tenant would have to present a proposal to the Parks Board, similar to the situation at the Booker T. Washington Community Center, he said.

Bennett intends to reserve one-third of the 36,000-square-foot facility for city offices, leaving the other 24,000 square feet for a tenant. “That building is huge,” he said. City offices now located on the second floor of City Hall would move to the Fairbanks Park building, under the mayor’s plan. That would allow the city Police Department to move from its current Wabash Avenue location back into City Hall, which would save the city money in rent payments or the $3.5-million cost of a new police facility, Bennett said.

With the city paying its share of the Fairbanks facility’s utilities and expenses, a prospective tenant’s costs would be reduced by one-third, he said. That could enhance a family fitness center’s chances for viability.

The YMCA of Clay County is carefully studying the situation. SEER Analytics should complete its market analysis by next month, so the Clay YMCA’s board can review the survey at its July 21 meeting, Plummer said. With that data concerning a new Terre Haute YMCA, the board can decide “about moving forward or stopping,” she added.

When Riverbank closed in December, the YMCA of Clay County offered to accept the defunct Terre Haute center’s members free through the end of that month. Nearly 40 people took to the Clay agency’s offer, Plummer said, and about a dozen wound up joining that YMCA several miles away.

Clearly, the Y remains a part of Terre Haute’s consciousness. The YMCA opened locally in 1892. The YWCA debuted here in 1902. And they kept going, uninterrupted, through some pretty rough times, including two world wars and the Great Depression. The prospect of a revived YMCA should energize Terre Haute. After all, the folks at the YMCA of Clay County are pretty interested.

“At this point,” Plummer said, “I’m cautiously optimistic.”

Optimism and the start of summer are a good mix.

Mark Bennett can be reached at (812) 231-4377 or