Lavish new Lockport YMCA a slap in the face to city of Niagara Falls

By Mike Hudson

A plan to build a $17 million YMCA in the Town of Lockport took a step forward last week with a Niagara County Industrial Development Agency vote.

The IDA gave final approval for tax-exempt bonding authority for the YMCA Buffalo Niagara, which will enable the organization to borrow much of the construction cost.

The bonds will be a debt of the YMCA, not the county or the IDA, but they will enable the YMCA to borrow money on terms attractive to the investors who buy the bonds, because the interest will be exempt from income taxes.

There already is a YMCA in Lockport of course, on East Avenue near the Palace Theater. It’s been there forever and is expected to close when the new facility opens in October 2018.

The 52,000-square-foot building, to be erected on Snyder Drive, will feature a swimming pool and a gym on the first floor, and a three-lane running track above the gym on the second floor. Men’s and women’s locker rooms would be placed between the gym and the pool. The site will include 325 parking spaces.

All of this of course is good news for Lockport, but somewhat stinging to Niagara Falls, where the iconic YMCA building was closed in May 2015 after the same officials who announced the Lockport construction project said they could no longer afford it.

The Niagara Falls facility was taken over by the Niagara Gospel Rescue Mission, which turned it into a homeless shelter.

The YMCA said it has invested more than $3 million into the branch, and despite their best efforts it continues to operate at a substantial annual loss.

Olin “Buddy” Campbell, the Y’s president and CEO, said the organization is not leaving the city and is pursuing a hybrid model for its services.

“The building is just not sustainable,” Campbell said. “We want to utilize our resources in the community to run programming and do more to meet our mission.”

The Lockport project — the largest non-industrial construction project in the town’s recent history — has been a long time coming for the YMCA, which drew up a strategic plan 20 years ago that called for a new facility. The YMCA bought the 31-acre Snyder Drive site in 2001, but it didn’t start a fund-raising campaign until 2006.

The town also has applied for a $500,000 state grant as a reward for cooperating with a not-for-profit agency. Crocker said if that grant comes in, the town will use it to build more sidewalks on roads near the YMCA site.

Town Planner Andrew C. Reilly said the added traffic from the YMCA project might help convince the state Department of Transportation to install a traffic signal at Snyder Drive and Robinson Road, which the town has been seeking for years.

Meanwhile, back in Niagara Falls, we got another magnet for homeless men, who are often mentally ill, suffering from substance abuse problems or come complete with violent criminal histories.

A win for Lockport to be sure.

But at what cost to the Cataract City?


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