An artists's renderings of the new YMCA to be built in Hammond are shown during the announcement on Friday, May 21, 2021. (Michael Gard / Post-Tribune)
An artists's renderings of the new YMCA to be built in Hammond are shown during the announcement on Friday, May 21, 2021. (Michael Gard / Post-Tribune)
With the vacant lot where the former Carson Pirie Scott & Co. store, anchor to the old Woodmar Mall as a backdrop, officials announced a partnership that will bring a $40-plus million new “destination” YMCA to the spot.

Bill Hanna, executive director the Dean and Barbara White Family Foundation, joined representatives from the Crossroads YMCA and Hammond officials including Mayor Thomas McDermott Jr., to announce plans for the more than 100,000-square-foot facility about seven blocks from the city’s current YMCA at 173rd Street and Southeastern Avenue.

“We are going to be giving $10 million in an initial gift that will be matched dollar per dollar by the city,” Hanna said to the applause of the crowd gathered for the announcement. Hanna said the Foundation will offer an additional $15 million in funding, $1.50 for every dollar donated by the community at large up to $10 million, which brought another round of applause.

McDermott lauded the foundation’s efforts to give back to the community and make Northwest Indiana a better place.

“This is going to be transformational,” McDermott said. “This is going to put us over the top.”

The destination YMCA will feature more than a half a million gallons of water between the two indoor and one outdoor swimming pools, a seven lap-per-mile track, locker rooms, sports performance area and fitness facilities for all ages are among amenities planned, Jay Buckmaster, CEO of the Crossroads YMCA, said. The new facility is expected to serve up to 50,000 people in North Lake County.

Buckmaster said engineering is expected to begin soon with a groundbreaking expected in spring of 2022. Construction is estimated to take between 18 and 24 months with an expected grand opening in spring of 2024.

“This is really economic development that will have a ripple effect,” Buckmaster said.

McDermott said Pill Talon, his chief of staff, came to him with the idea earlier this year and he told Talon it looks great on paper but there is no way it would happen. After approaching Buckmaster, McDermott said the plan quickly moved forward.

“I can’t wait to see what this area will look like in five years,” McDermott said.

“Partnering with the YMCA to bring a destination attraction for families will complete the rebirth of the former Woodmar Mall site. The city’s commitment to the very successful Sportsplex next door creates a complete campus for families to enjoy both facilities for years to come,” McDermott said.

Mark Bates, chairman of the Crossroads YMCA board, said he was excited to see what began as a casual conversation with the mayor in February come to fruition just a few short months later.

“In my mind, this is a game changer for the city and surrounding area,” Bates said, adding he expects the project to re-energize the Woodmar area.

Bates said the success of the Southlake YMCA, which also was fueled by matching grants from the White Foundation, exceeded all expectations, blowing them out of the water in the first three months.

“I envision that and even better in Hammond,” Bates said.

Hammond Councilman Barry Tyler Jr. represents the 3rd District where the facility will be located.

“I was a Y kid,” Tyler said. The YMCA is where he played his first organized basketball came as a child, he said.

“It’s exciting to see this come to the 3rd District,” Tyler said, adding the expansion means a lot for his district and for the city as a whole.

Africa Tarver, executive director of community development for the city, said many residents have memories of the old Woodmar Mall from buying clothes to working in the shops.

“Economic development in a community is basically about building memories. Today is the day where we make new memories about this site,” she said.

Following the news conference, Tarver said luring development to an older part of the city like the Woodmar area presents challenges. Developers want to know about things like expressway access and neighborhood median incomes.

“The older part of the city can be much more challenging,” she said. Most suggested uses for the site focused on entertainment-type activities and venues, making the YMCA project a perfect fit.

“We know what our strengths are. We know what works. At the end of the day, family and community are what matters,” Tarver said.

Hanna said the YMCA project is the type of transformational project the Foundation looks for when considering where to focus its dollars.

“They are not afraid to go out and get things that will have a strategic impact on a community,” Hanna said.

He expects to see the business community and local residents step up to provide the $10 million in matching funds for a $15 million gift from the foundation.

“I don’t feel like it will be an ask in a sense. This is a real opportunity,” he said.

Buckmaster said the YMCA does not plan on closing the existing YMCA building on Southeastern. The facility went through a $3 million renovation in 2019. Its function however may be reconsidered. The COVID-19 pandemic pushed to the forefront certain needs in the community the facility could address with child care and after-school programming among the options. Focus groups will be looking at how the building can best be used once the new facility is open.

“I believe we have space for two,” Buckmaster said.
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