A fixture in downtown Kansas City, Kan., for more than 90 years, the Eighth Street YMCA is closing its facility April 12.
The closing has received some comments from the community, including hundreds of people who have participated in a “Save the Eighth Street Y” Facebook page.
Announced early Tuesday morning, the YMCA closing was a surprise to some, but not a total surprise to others. It was part of a bigger plan that also closed YMCAs in Independence, Mo., and Raytown, Mo., while announcing a new YMCA for downtown Kansas City, Mo.
David Byrd, Greater Kansas City YMCA CEO and president, said this morning that during the past 18 months to two years, the YMCA has discovered a lot of interest for a facility in eastern Kansas City, Kan., but not enough support for fundraising.
Byrd said earlier this week that the old building at 900 N. 8th St. needed hundreds of thousands of dollars in deferred maintenance, and that a new building was needed. That might cost $15 million to $18 million, according to the YMCA officials.
“We were surprised to hear it was going to close in April,” said Ed Linnebur, executive director of the Downtown Shareholders. “Certainly it’s a great amenity and we were hoping to see even greater services this summer for kids.” He said the downtown Y had a summer soccer program for youths.
Linnebur said he would hope there would be an option to save the Y downtown, but it comes down to dollars and cents. "It’s always a tough decision to make. I’m sure the YMCA people have reasons for what they’re doing,” he said.
He said he hoped there will be a way to keep the YMCA downtown and have a game plan for the future. “I’m hoping some others will come to the table to help,” Linnebur said.
Cindy Cash, president of the Kansas City, Kan., Area Chamber of Commerce, said she had been aware of the conversations about a new downtown YMCA building.
“I’m very sad to see the 8th Street Y close,” Cash said. Many people have been working on a solution that would allow the Y to continue to provide services downtown, she said.
“We’re going to have to determine if we want a Y, and we as a community are going to have to figure out how to make it happen,” she said. “I know people are working on it and will continue to work on it.”
At a Unified Government Commission meeting last September, Commissioner Mike Kane brought up the idea of using the casino charitable contributions for a new joint YMCA-UG recreation building at the Kensington Recreation Center property at 29th and State Avenue. Kane and Mark Holland expressed some support of the idea at the time, but it was pointed out the new facility costs about $18 million, and the total amount of casino funding they had was $500,000. The casino grants instead are going to small health-related programs costing $10,000 to $50,000 each.
Not everyone on the commission was totally supportive of the YMCA last September, as Commissioner Nathan Barnes said some people can’t afford to go there. Commissioner Butch Ellison, a player for the University of Kansas Jayhawks basketball team in 1960, told a story about how he was denied entrance to the Eighth Street KCK facility when he was a youth and told to go to a Kansas City, Mo., YMCA facility.
The recreation building at 29th and State was just one of several ideas that were considered during the past 18 months of discussions, a YMCA official said.
Bill Hutton, who is on the YMCA board, said he was like everyone else, “extremely disappointed” with the closing.
“Now the focus is on trying to convince the UG to help us start a capital campaign for the Y downtown,” Hutton said. “There’s no way without a public-private partnership that we could ever build a new Y in KCK.” Outside funding is needed, he said.
For the Providence-Ball Center YMCA at 86th and Parallel, the UG contributed $500,000 to the $6 million facility several years ago, he said. The Bonner Springs YMCA is a partnership with the Bonner Springs school district.
"If the UG would pledge to support a new YMCA building, then we could talk about what to do with the current facility in the interim,” he said. Anything done with the current facility would be strictly a stopgap measure, he added.
Hutton said the downtown YMCA is still well used by members. Also, he said it is an inclusive facility, meaning anyone can come in, and use the facility. There are memberships that are open to everyone, and they have a sliding scale according to a person’s income. All the members are treated the same regardless of how much they pay, he said. There are not many places in the metropolitan area that offer the same openness.
He added he can’t really do anything about any of the past practices of the YMCA and the society before 1959, but the YMCA was a leader in integration here and was one of the first institutions to be integrated. Before the late 1950s, there were separate Y facilities for minorities and women. But the YMCA was integrated long before the public schools here were integrated.
Hutton remembers going to the Eighth Street Y when he was 5 years old, and he has been going there 53 years.
“My personal opinion is something may not happen immediately, but I hold out a great deal of hope that ultimately we’ll get something done that will benefit all of Wyandotte County, including downtowners,” he said.
While there are other organizations in town, such as the school districts and colleges, that might help with a new YMCA project, at this point it appears to be up to the UG Commission whether the community will continue to have a downtown YMCA.
A downtown institution closing is another sad chapter in the decline of the older parts of the city. There are two YMCAs open on the west side of Wyandotte County. The community should continue to work on it, and should make every effort to make sure that people who live on the east side of the city have comparable services or facilities nearby that are provided to people on the west side of the community.
To reach Mary Rupert, editor, email firstname.lastname@example.org.