By John Kanelis
The YMCA has decided to sell its three branch activity centers, but one of them – the South Branch YMCA – is set to be reborn.
Its mission will be essentially the same as it was when the YMCA ran it, but it's going to be run by a consortium of local sports enthusiasts, according to a man involved in the purchase of the property.
The South Branch Y is at 58th Avenue and Western Street. Alan Rhodes, an Amarillo lawyer and commercial real estate investor, closed the sale of the property on Aug. 1. "We're going to start gutting the gym building on the property" in about two weeks, Rhodes said.
Rhodes said he is excited about the possibilities that await the South Branch YMCA campus. He's not certain of the fates that await the North Branch YMCA and the Mid-Town Branch.
The South Branch of the YMCA, which has received considerable help over the years in developing ball fields from two local service organizations, is set to get new life, Rhodes said.
The new owners will be Amarillo Netplex, which plans to purchase the site for $1.6 million. Its aim, according to its written mission statement, is to "create a state-of-the-art sports facility with multiple volleyball and basketball courts for games, tournaments, practices and camps."
Rhodes said the new complex will seek at some level to fill the void left by the voters' rejection two years ago of the proposed Amarillo Recreation Center, which was to be built in southeast Amarillo, near Caprock High School. "The ARC was seen as a magnet for regional athletic tournaments. This Y project could be an alternative to the ARC." Rhodes conceded, though, that the converted YMCA property won't be nearly as large or as comprehensive as what planners had envisioned for the ARC.
Two beneficiaries of the complex will be a pair of youth sports organizations, Hoop 10 and JET Volleyball, directed by Johnna Pointer and Jess Evers, who have said their organizations have outgrown their athletic facility at 34th Avenue and Bell Street. Evers said they "plan to make approximately $400,000 in renovations (at the South Branch YMCA site) that will allow the court space to also accommodate six volleyball courts within the existing building."
Pointer sees more growth potential at the new Amarillo Netplex site. "In the future, we hope we can build even more courts at this location. A large facility such as this one would help Amarillo attract regional competitions, which bring visitors and stimulate the local economy, as well as allow local families to stay in town for more competitions."
There's also a tax benefit for the city, Pointer said. "We'll be putting this property back on the tax rolls. It's a win-win for Amarillo's economy and for kids and families."
Rhodes also hopes to get two local Rotary clubs involved in restoring some outdoor elements at the site. Rhodes, a member and past president of the Rotary Club of Amarillo, helped raise more than $100,000 years ago to develop Rotary Park, which sits adjacent to the indoor gymnasium at the South Branch YMCA. The Amarillo West Rotary Club also was involved in those fundraising efforts. The ball fields that comprise Rotary Park have fallen into disrepair, Rhodes noted. "I'm hoping to get Rotary behind this project," he said, "and possibly use this venue for an annual event."
Amarillo Netplex said in a statement that once the deal closes, it plans to donate the ball fields to the Amarillo Parks and Recreation Department "if the city accepts them for use by Amarillo residents."
The grand plan is to develop the ball fields, to make them usable for junior baseball and to Little League teams to participate, Rhodes said. Little League officials announced late this past week that the junior baseball activity is returning to Amarillo, with signups set to begin on Aug. 14, about the time Rhodes expects work to begin on the old South Branch YMCA building.
Rhodes also took note of the huge success that high school and collegiate volleyball has enjoyed in the greater Amarillo area. He said Amarillo High School has won state Class 5A championships and the West Texas A&M University volleyball teams – with many of its athletes coming from throughout the Panhandle – are perennial powerhouses at the Division II level.
In addition to the indoor volleyball courts, plans also call for the development of six "sand volleyball" pits outdoors, next to the gymnasium structure. Rhodes is hoping to have tournaments at those sand pits quite soon, he said.
Rhodes is hoping to solicit public investors through the use of a website. He said interested parties could sign on to the site and contribute funds for its development though the use of bit coins or credit cards.
Rhodes said he is "100 percent" confident the project will succeed.
Rhodes, a native of Bovina who has lived in the Panhandle his entire life, recalled that in 1938, the YMCA was incorporated by a group of men, many of whom were leading businessmen and civic leaders. "This opportunity is what these men created in 1938," he said. "I'm pretty sure this project we're planning for the South Y site would make those guys happy."