Thumbs Up!

For more than 120 years, the Blue Water YMCA in Port Huron, Mich., has served the community, providing top-notch programs for a wide range of ages. As one of the first YMCAs in the state, Blue Water was founded in 1886, and has been a fixture in the largest city in Michigan’s “thumb” area ever since.

Although sentimentally regarded, the facility was nearly 80 years old, and staff was struggling with building deficiencies, attempting to meet the growing needs of its users. Undersized pools and the old YMCA dormitory-style design did not adequately serve present and future users’ needs. Simply put, the community had outgrown the facility.

As the infrastructure of the aging building continued to decline, the YMCA’s Board of Directors determined that a new structure was a better option than a quick-fix renovation. A new building would provide improved adjacencies and the proper floor space for critical functions, such as those located in pools and gymnasiums. All agreed that a new site would allow for future expansion and accommodate growing parking needs.

The new facility–designed by TMP Architecture in Bloomfield Hills, Mich.–gives the YMCA a state-of-the-art tool to provide even better programming, plenty of space and a stronger commitment to the community. Programs are now housed in a warm and spacious environment on the banks of the St. Clair River. The new facility allows the YMCA to successfully continue its mission to maintain and strengthen a model for healthy choices, the value of community and a sense of place.

A Generous Friend

Along with grants, the Port Huron community financed the new YMCA primarily through pledged donations. In light of a struggling Michigan economy, these donations are testimony to the value this project holds within the community. A local developer, Acheson Ventures LLC, donated the riverfront land after financing an extensive excavation process that included removal of hazardous materials on this former brownfield site. For both parties, the donated site represented a generous and mutually beneficial arrangement that would enhance the value of the river area, create great architectural opportunities, and provide a valuable catalyst for future development.

Jim Acheson, a Port Huron community patriarch, wanted to rejuvenate this stretch of land, and realized that he needed the right building to catalyze the area. For Acheson, the YMCA’s apparent needs for a new facility matched his vision for the site in a picture-perfect way. What would provide a better vehicle for rejuvenation than a dynamic community building like a YMCA?

Mike DeLong, project manager with Acheson, says that his company worked for years to ensure that the YMCA came to this particular site.

“The YMCA is a great tool to show potential office-building tenants and other future business owners,” says DeLong. “This first-class facility is located within reach, and allows business owners to offer their employees the benefits of membership.”

So strong was Acheson’s feeling that the YMCA should make a home on this site that he not only donated the land but provided infrastructure for the new facility, including sewers, water and a number of roads, and generally brought new access to a site that had very little. Acheson also made improvements to nearby buildings and expanded a parking deck to accommodate patrons and staff.

Future development plans for the land surrounding the new YMCA include a mix of residential options, including single-family homes, condominiums and apartments. A variety of retail offerings will support a walkable, urban residential community environment. Plans for a maritime museum, as well as a fountain with wading pool and wintertime ice rink, also are in the works.

A Moving Target

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