, Newburyport, MA

October 3, 2012

YMCA should reconsider its plans

Newburyport Daily News

---- — The North Shore YMCA's intentions to create a new facility in Newburyport is running into predictable and valid opposition. Hopefully, the YMCA will give serious consideration to the voices that are being raised against the plan.

The Y's plan relies on a location that is unsuitable for Newburyport. It has a purchase-and-sale agreement on the former L-3 Communications building, a spot that is deep within the city's industrial park.

Leaders within the industrial park, such as Mike Strem of Strem Chemical and Ralph Castagna of Castagna Construction, have pointed out the clear problems with the location -- the industrial park was never meant to be a place for retail-orientated businesses. The park was intentionally located on what was once the undeveloped fringe of the city, a place where industrial jobs and the noise, smells, and unpleasantries that they can generate, would thrive in relative isolation. That formula has been a successful one. It's a concept that has brought dozens of manufacturing companies to the city, along with thousands of jobs. It has also given Newburyport an important micro-economy and substantial source of tax revenues.

Importing hundreds of gym-going people into this scenario would compromise the longstanding intention of the industrial park. Newburyport has successfully managed to separate its retail and industrial areas, and this is a formula that should be upheld.

Other arguments have been raised in recent days related to the enormous fundraising effort that it is anticipated the YMCA will have to embark on, and how that will impact existing non-profits in Newburyport. The pool of available money for non-profits is only so deep, and the needs seem to grow a bit every year. It is little wonder why existing non-profits are worrying over the YMCA's plans.

Newburyport used to have a YMCA, located in a building that stood next to the public library on State Street. A fire destroyed the building in the 1980s, and the organization became defunct locally. This most recent effort to revive it was conceived by the North Shore chapter of the YMCA, which has seen success in communities to the south of here.

Is a YMCA needed in Newburyport? That is a harder question to answer. The city has a YWCA that provides at least some of the services that it appears the YMCA would offer. There is also the issue of friction between established for-profit gyms that already proliferate in Newburyport, and the competition that would be brought to bear by the large non-profit YMCA. It may well change the business landscape for these smaller establishments. The YMCA has a lot of reconsidering to do, and certainly needs to do more outreach to the industrial park, local non-profits and the local "gym economy" before it commits to building a new facility in Newburyport.