By Leonard E. Colvin
New Journal and Guide
The city of Norfolk will buy the land and building of the Historic Hunton YMCA, under an agreement the city council approved 6-1 during its July 11 meeting.
The deal calls for the city to buy the land the Hunton has been sitting on since 1979 for $6.6 million. This money will enable the organization to raise money to build a new permanent building, and provides $200,000 in moving costs as well as $400,000 in rent at a temporary location.
News about the deal was reported in a NewsBreak wire story late Monday night, a day in advance of the council meeting on Tuesday. According to that media account, Joe Waldo, the attorney representing the Hunton Board of Directors, is quoted as saying the Hunton’s operation will be moved to a nearby church in September. During that time a new facility will be built at the site of the Tidewater Park Elementary School, which is being closed. It is located at 1045 Brambleton Avenue.
Earlier in the day on Monday, when contacted by the New Journal and Guide, Waldo was mum about the purchase, saying that news was under wraps until after the council had met.
According to the early NewsBreak report, Hunton officials would be able to buy about 1.8 acres of the new site for $1.
Waldo said construction of the new facility is expected to take about two years.
News about the Hunton’s future first appeared in a Public Notice published by the city in the local daily media on July 4th, announcing the council might be poised to approve an ordinance in the future to allow the city to buy the property where the YMCA has sat since 1979 at 1139 E. Charlotte Street.
According to the cryptically written Public Notice, the city was considering the sale (or exchange) of the property where TPES sits as the site to relocate the Hunton YMCA.
TPES – Tidewater Park Elementary School – is currently owned by Norfolk Public Schools (NPS). But since NPS plans on closing the facility, and will no longer use it for educational purposes, its ownership will revert back to the city.
Negotiations on the purchase price between the city and the now 148-year-old Hunton YMCA have been ongoing for three years, according to Ulysses Turner, who is a consultant for the organization’s Board of Directors.
The city needs the land to construct a flood mitigation project. The city targeted the land when it began planning for the redevelopment of Tidewater Gardens as part of the massive St. Paul’s Redevelopment project.
Hunton is one of the few remaining lots located in the redeveloping neighborhood that isn’t owned by the city and officials at Hunton worried the organization might not survive the redevelopment.
While the massive redevelopment project has been taking place over the past two years, the Hunton YMCA continued to operate. But the families which it served have been relocated to other parts of the city as the massive housing project was demolished.
Turner said the Board wants the Hunton to remain in the St. Paul’s area to serve the families who may be returning to the new development.
“(The Hunton YMCA) was formed … after the Civil War at the time of Jim Crow and the very fact that the Hunton Y has survived for over 145 years is not only remarkable, it would seem almost impossible, but they have,” Waldo told the New Journal and Guide on Monday. “With the help of the mayor and the city council and many others, they are going to prosper. We hope for another 145 years in a new location.”
While the city will pay $6 million for the Hunton property, half of that will be held in escrow as a seed for Hunton’s capital campaign to build a new facility, according to the advance report.
WPA Architects which is located in downtown Norfolk, has been contracted to design the new Hunton at its new location on Brambleton, according to the early report citing Waldo. He said the plans may include a pool, an amenity the facility has never had.
The YMCA, according to Turner, had failed to find an existing building in the vicinity of the St. Paul development area suitable enough to move its operation.
The city assessed the building some years ago at $3 million. But initially, it only offered $1 million.
This is the second time the historic Hunton YMCA has negotiated a move to retain its legacy and mission due to a city redevelopment project.
In the late 1970s when the city and Norfolk Redevelopment and Housing Authority (NRHA) were redeveloping the Church Street Business corridor of the St. Paul’s area, the Hunton YMCA sat on Brambleton and Wood Streets.
The Norfolk Unit of Virginia Union University began a private Baptist institution on September 18, 1935, with 85 students in three second-floor rooms in that Hunton YMCA building.
Many of the old buildings along Church Street Brambleton and Wood were targeted to be demolished to make way for the construction of the current United Postal Service Sorting facility and other structures.
The city is now seeking to buy the land where the USPS facility exists as part of the St. Paul’s Project.
The Hunton YMCA is independent of the YMCA of Hampton Roads.
According to the GUIDE archives, in 1978, the Hunton YMCA officials were in tense talks with the Norfolk Redevelopment and Housing Authority (NRHA) which led to the agency proposing to buy the property on Brambleton and Wood Streets.
The Hunton officials also negotiated with the city to help find a new location for the YMCA.
In late 1978, the city finally agreed to provide a city-owned recreation center on Charlotte Street. Hunton officials, with help from the United Community Fund of Norfolk, (forerunner of the United Way), raised over $1 million to renovate the facility to accommodate its mission.
Today, a lingering point the YMCA board and NRHA have involves money the YMCA owes the agency for various maintenance projects performed at the Charlotte Street site including the installation of a new HVAC system.
The Hunton YMCA dates its founding to 1875. It was the first YMCA opened to service African-American in the South.