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City working toward new YMCA

BY HEATHER COX - hcox@chronicle-tribune.com

Now that the property has been cleared, the city is still working toward developing the 40 acres of the old CSX property, with the first priority being the new YMCA.

Mayor Gabriel Greer said they spent about a year and a half conducting a phase one and phase two environmental to get the property cleared out and studied to make sure it was okay for public use. The property had been officially cleared last fall, he said, and some of the acreage will eventually be developed into housing.

Greer said when talking with housing developers who develop around the United States, they say they look for three things before development. The first being that the property is close to amenities – whether that’s shopping or something like a YMCA.

The second thing would be a water feature and the third being close to parks and trails. With this property, the housing would be next to the YMCA, along the river and next to parks and bike trails.

“Every housing developer looks at that and is enamored with the possibilities of that site,” Greer said. “And it’s a site that the city owns that we have the control over to shape this into something that’s going to be the best development for the city.”

Greer said they’re also working with different volunteer groups on pocket park ideas, such as a harmony park that the Rotary Club wants to work on. They’re also planning to use Department of Natural Resources (DNR) grants to help build the riverwalk.

The development of the property and the YMCA specifically would be a game changer for Peru, Greer said. He said the community hasn’t had this scale of expansion and building new infrastructure and housing facilities in nearly 100 years.

Since the YMCA is such a cornerstone of the development as a whole, Greer said the city increased its pledge to the YMCA to $2.5 million and asked the county to match it, giving the project $5 million. The city was also the one to donate the 10 acres to the YMCA project, he said.

Because the YMCA is such an important part of the 40-acre development and since they can only do one part at a time, Greer said they first want to see the YMCA project completed.

“I’ve talked to different developers that are very excited to hear about the housing that will be there. My response has been to this point, we’re pushing the YMCA across the finish line and then we’re pivoting to what’s going to happen with the housing,” he said. “Because we can’t do it all at the same time and with the Y being so important to the project, we’re pushing hard for the YMCA and the trail to get finished.”

Miami County YMCA Executive Director Mark Demchak said the Y would not have gotten as far as it has without the help of the city and the county.

Both have provided advice, encouragement and funding, he said, and the city was able to acquire the land and make it ready for the YMCA to use, which saved the Y hundreds of thousands of dollars in land preparation.

“It means a lot to us here at the Y. It puts a lot of pressure on us and it’s a lot of responsibility, but we’re honored by that and I think it means quite a bit to our board and to our donors,” Demchak said.

Demchak said they’re unsure of just how much they’ve raised for the project so far, but they are around a total of $12.1 million and the goal is $12.9 million.

As of now, the Y has hired Tom Salzer with Bona Vita Architecture as the architect and will start the process of deciding on a construction manager firm within the next couple of weeks.

Demchak said they are working on the initial design specifications and are working on a few grants that will be reliant on those design specs.

He said they plan to hold a groundbreaking in October of this year and hope to have the building completed by October 2020.

Demchak said this type of economic development opportunity is tremendous as many small communities don’t have a lot of opportunity to make a big splash in economic development.

He said they’re very excited about moving into the next phase and it doesn’t happen without the support of all of their donors.

“Together we’ve been able to really put this project on the map and make it happen. As a Y leader, you don’t get to do this very often,” Demchak said. “It’s not exactly what I was expecting to do when I took the job, but we’re I’m honored and blessed to be in this spot and have all these wonderful people around us working on this. We’re just so grateful for the community support the receiving.”