YMCA one step closer

Published 12:00 am Saturday, August 19, 2006

NATCHEZ &8212; The Miss-Lou is one step closer to getting a YMCA.

A team of YMCA consultants talked Monday to area businessmen, community leaders and residents about what they thought of building a YMCA in Natchez.

They presented their findings Monday night to an organizing group made up of city government and community members.

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The overall conclusion was positive, said Dan Hecker, management consultant with the YMCA of the USA.

After interviewing about 25 people, the team of four consultants said most of them were interested in seeing a YMCA in the community.

A big hurdle was identification, Hecker said.

&8220;About 50 percent of our interviewees really didn&8217;t know what a YMCA was,&8221; Hecker said. &8220;They had heard the word, but they didn&8217;t know what it involved.&8221;

Other problems interviewees brought up were race tensions and no history of such a large project.

The positive aspects outweighed the negative, though, Hecker said. Community leaders showed confidence in building a facility, he said, and organizers could probably find enough money to fund the project.

&8220;There&8217;s enough wealth in the community, you could probably pull this off,&8221; Hecker said. &8220;Getting them to invest that wealth is a whole other story.&8221;

One way a facility could help the community, he said, was that a YMCA could improve race relations.

&8220;You come to a YMCA, and it&8217;s like a melting pot,&8221; he said. &8220;It doesn&8217;t matter who you are.&8221;

The preliminary study cost the city nothing, Mayor Phillip West said.

However, the next step in the process would cost more.

&8220;Our thinking is we have heard enough positive things to move on to the next step,&8221; Hecker said.

He recommended the organizing committee hire a firm to conduct a market study to find out if there was enough community interest to fund a facility. He suggested using a firm that would charge roughly $9,000 to $10,000 to conduct the study.

He also suggested the group widen its scope to include Louisiana businesses, residents and possible government funding.

&8220;In order to get critical mass, you&8217;re going to need to make it a Miss-Lou project,&8221; he said.

Although Hecker said building the facility would likely cost $6 to $8 million, group members were optimistic.

&8220;I hope we can break ground on a YMCA inside two years, and I would love to see it done in one and a half,&8221; West said.

&8220;It&8217;s important for this entire area. It could be the centerpiece, symbolize our community and where we&8217;re headed. My belief is the public will support it.&8221;