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YMCA considering Wesley Chapel as site for a branch

WESLEY CHAPEL — When it comes to YMCA branches, this community has been the hole in the doughnut. But that could change in the next several years.

Officials at the Tampa Metro YMCA have identified fast-growing Wesley Chapel as one of two areas in which they aim to build new branches. The other is the U.S. 301 Big Bend area in southern Hillsborough County. The nonprofit agency's governing board recently approved a strategic plan that lists both areas as priorities.

"This is step one," said Tom Looby, Tampa Metro Y's chief executive officer. He said the next step would involve "identifying three to four potential locations and then deciding on a location."

Officials have not talked to any landowners, he said, but they are favoring the State Road 54 area as opposed to State Road 56, which is considered still too close to the New Tampa branch.

Looby said that after deciding on possible locations, the next step would be conducting a market study to see which is preferred. After that, officials would do another study to "test the waters for fundraising."

"We would see if community leaders support it and then decide whether to proceed with a capital campaign," he said.

Even if everyone is on board, it still would take several years before residents would be able to lift weights and swim laps.

"We're talking three to five years," he said.

A big donor would shorten the wait time, while "a grass roots of people writing small checks would move things along more slowly."

Looby said the area has been targeted as the site of a family service Y branch. Such a branch usually offers programs for adults and children, including a swimming pool, gym, wellness and teen centers and child care. The New Tampa Y is an example of a family service branch, although Y offerings are customized based on the results of market studies.

The rule of thumb for establishing a YMCA is that large concentrations of families should be within a 12- to 15-minute drive. For many families in central Pasco, the YMCAs in the surrounding area are 20 to 30 minutes away.

The Trinity community raised about $4.5-million to open its YMCA. Initially, the leaders of the campaign thought $1.5-million might be enough. Their plans got delayed by an economic downturn and other factors. For one thing, many wondered if it was too ambitious a project for a community just taking root. But Trinity grew and kept growing. The need became clear, and the campaign took off. The result of the delay was a bigger capital campaign, and a bigger and better YMCA.

The Trinity and New Tampa YMCA campaigns had a big advantage when they got started: a donation of land.

In Trinity, ophthalmologist and developer James Gills donated property. In New Tampa, the developer of Tampa Palms gave the land.

Central Pasco attorney and longtime resident Tim Hayes said Y representatives approached community members two or three years ago about expansion.

"I told them 'absolutely,' " said Hayes, a member of the New Tampa branch and father of two college-age children who work there. "The whole concept of the YMCA brings to a community is absolutely phenomenal. It allows people who can't afford that type of facility to be part of it."

Possible locations would Old Pasco Road, Curley Road or Overpass Road, he said.

"Those areas have exposure on State Road 54 but you don't have to pay 54 land prices to get it," he said. Anther possibility is farther west near the Stagecoach neighborhood, though that property might have wetland issues. Wiregrass land that is closer to SR 54 might also be a good location, as it would be close to the new hospital slated to be built on Bruce B. Downs Boulevard.

He noted that the New Tampa Y branch is on a road that parallels heavily traveled Bruce B. Downs.

"That's worked out well," he said.

He said he thinks the community could raise the money.

"(The Y) does a pretty good job of marketing themselves, but it won't happen overnight."

Lisa Buie can be reached at buie@sptimes.com or (813) 909-4604.

YMCA considering Wesley Chapel as site for a branch 11/20/08 [Last modified: Friday, November 21, 2008 6:06pm]

    

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